Police in Kansas City are investigating the recent death of an 18-month-old toddler allegedly killed by his five-year-old cousin because he would not stop crying. The little girl is now one of the youngest murder suspects in Missouri history and among the youngest ever in the nation.
"We are investigating it as a homicide," Steve Young, a spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department told The Huffington Post. "The suspect is five."
Young acknowledged the bizarre nature of the case in a somewhat bizarre way, noting, "I can say it is way unusual -- I can say that for sure."
The investigation into the case began last Friday, when authorities were called to a home in the 2600 block of Elmwood Avenue around 11:30 p.m., after the boy was found floating in the water. Paramedics rushed the toddler to the hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival, police said.
The victim has since been identified as Jermane Johnson Jr. At the time of his death, Jermane was in the company of his 16-year-old babysitter and four other children, the oldest of whom was 12. The teenage babysitter, who authorities say suffers from a mental disorder, was allegedly asleep when the incident occurred.
Police said the five-year-old girl, who is not being identified, told social workers she took the toddler into a bathtub where water remained from a previous bath and intentionally drowned him because he "cried too much."
According to the Jackson County Medical Examiner's Office, they are in possession of the preliminary autopsy results right now, but because the case is an "open investigation," they are not commenting on what those findings are.
Authorities have yet to press charges against the five-year-old suspect. According to one expert The Huffington Post spoke with, the child is too young to understand the complexities of her actions.
"I think it is pretty straightforward. The child is under seven and is under what is called the age of reason," said Nicole S. Urdang, a psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor in Buffalo, N.Y.
"I mean is there really any question about this child’s culpability? What five-year-old has judgment? She probably thought she would quiet the sibling and that the sibling would wake up and be fine," Urdang said. "Unless you tell me this child was killing hamsters in her spare time, the child did nothing with malice or forethought."
Interestingly, Urdang said the child will most likely need counseling to deal with the death, but probably not until later in her life, when she can fully understand the gravity of the situation.
"When you can't understand what you have done, you don't have a post-traumatic response," she said. "The counseling would be needed to help the young teenager or adult understand that they had no idea what they were doing and they couldn't possibly be responsible."
The Family Court division is actively involved in the case, according to Mary Jacobi, a spokeswoman for the Jackson County Court.
"A petition was presented and has been acted upon to consider the 5-year-old child in need of care. It is a formal court preceding that gives the court the ability to provide services to the child," Jacobi told The Huffington Post.
Jacobi added: "The child is not imprisoned. The child is in a better place and receiving whatever services were deemed [necessary] by those interacting with the child."
The Jackson County prosecutor's office declined to comment on what, if any, action they plan to take.
The case raises several complicated legal questions. Chief among them is the culpability of the suspect, something famed Seattle attorney and legal analyst Anne Bremner says would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove in this case.
"The suspect has to be able to form the intent and appreciate the criminality," Bremner told The Huffington Post. "In adults, they call it competence. In juvenile cases, they call it capacity.
"Can a five-year-old form the intent? Do they know what death is? Do they know if you put a baby in water it will die? The prosecution will look at it and evaluate it but they most likely won't put a 5-year-old on trial for murder."
However, there is a possibility that police and prosecutors could focus their attention on other people connected to the case.
"Negligent homicide would be tough based on the facts we know, but there is potential for neglect charges against the parents," Bremner said. "The parents weren't there. We don't know the level of incapacitation of the babysitter, but prosecutors will just have to show that it was reasonably foreseeable that something tragic could happen."
Cases of children under the age of ten who commit murder are not unheard of. Most recently, on January 2, a 10-year-old boy from Big Prairie, Ohio, was charged with killing his mother, 46-year-old Deborah McVay. The child and his mother were allegedly arguing over chores prior to the shooting. The case is still making its way through the criminal justice system.
"You would be amazed at how many cases like this involving young children have occurred," Urdang said. "There are a lot of cases of little children who kill other children and kids who murder their siblings in their cribs. It is something that therapists know about. It is a dirty, dirty secret because people like to think of children as innocent. It is sick and sad."