MENIFEE (CBSLA.com) — The 16-year-old half-brother of a Menifee boy who was found dead earlier this week has been charged with murder, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Investigators uncovered the body of 11-year-old Terry Smith — known to his family as JuJu — around noon Wednesday in a shallow grave approximately 75 feet from his family’s home in the 33000 block of Helen Lane.
Smith’s mother reported him missing Sunday morning around 10:30 a.m. A four-day search ensued involving numerous law enforcement agencies and more than 1,000 volunteers.
The victim’s half-brother, Skylor Atilano, was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon.
Shawna Smith, the mother to both boys, is in seclusion. Tracy Armato, Terry’s aunt, spoke out Friday.
“This has been a double tragedy for our family. While we are in the process of putting JuJu to rest we are also trying to have an understanding for what has occurred,” said Armato.
The District Attorney’s Office is requesting that the juvenile court conduct a hearing to determine whether the suspect’s case should be handled in juvenile or adult court.
The first hearing is scheduled for Monday at 8 a.m. Prosecutors are reportedly leaning on trying Atilano as an adult.
KCAL9 Legal Analyst Steve Meister thinks prosecutors will get their way. “I think he will be charged as an adult. Because he’s 16 so he’s old enough and it’s a murder case.”
KCAL9’s Tom Wait spoke Friday evening to Dave Wallander, an LA County firefighter and one of two people credited with finding Smith’s remains.
“I feel bad for the family. I feel sad for the dad. He’s back east. I feel bad for the mom.”
Wallander adds, “It’s such a sad thing. It really is. I don’t understand why people do the things they do. I wish there was something we could do to prevent it.”
He says he will never forget what he saw in the Smith yard.
“As soon as I saw the top of the head,” says Wallander, “I knew it was probably him.”
If Atilano is tried as an adult he will not be eligible for the death penalty because of his age. If he is charged as a juvenile he could be out of prison before he turns 25.