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8-Year-Old Accused Of Dad's Slay In Court

Vincent Romero was no stranger to guns. The avid hunter reportedly asked his priest whether he should buy his young son a firearm.

Now his 8-year-old boy is due in court on two counts of premeditated murder.

Police say the boy confessed to planning and carrying out the shooting deaths of Romero, 29, and co-worker Timothy Romans, 39, who rented a room from him. The men were found shot to death inside Romero's home in the small eastern Arizona community northeast of Phoenix last week.

Police and neighbors are at a loss to explain why he would have used a .22-caliber rifle to kill his father and another man at their home.

"That child, I don't think he knows what he did, and it was brutal," said the family priest, the Very Rev. John Paul Sauter.

The third-grader is due in court Monday, the same day as a funeral Mass scheduled to be held for his dad at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

In a sign of the emotional and legal complexities of the case, police are pushing to have the boy tried as an adult even as they investigate possible abuse, St. Johns Police Chief Roy Melnick said. If convicted as a minor, the boy could be sent to juvenile detention until he turns 18.

But former prosecutor Wendy Murphy said that there is not enough evidence known yet to tell whether this murder fits that profile.

"It's an incredibly unusual case," Murphy told Early Show anchor Maggie Rodriguez. "We hear about 8-year-olds accidentally shooting a gun. This was execution style. So I think it's fair to say there was something pretty awful going on behind closed doors. Police have already talked about the investigation of this child being an abuse victim. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that this child was suffering terribly horrible things behind closed doors."

St. Johns police are hoping a judge will agree to try the boy as an adult but admit it's unlikely.

"There is no physical evidence that has been analyzed to link him to anything," the boy's defense attorney, Benjamin Brewer, told CBS News.

Brewer also said police questioned his client without representation from a parent or attorney and didn't advise the child of his rights.

"In Arizona you can be prosecuted in adult court at age 8. That's not true in most other states," said Murphy on The Early Show. "I think if it comes out this child was being abused, that he was desperate, this was his only way of defending himself against some terrible things there happening, you don't see a lot of public sympathy for keeping him in the juvenile justice system."

The boy had no record of complaints with Arizona Child Protective Services, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon.

"He had no record of any kind, not even a disciplinary record at school," he said. "He has never been in trouble before."

Romero was from a family of avid hunters and wanted to make sure the boy wasn't afraid of guns and knew how to handle them, Sauter said. The boy's stepmother had suggested he have a BB gun, the priest said.

It's not unusual in a state like many around the West with liberal gun laws for children to learn early how to shoot small animals in the company of their fathers. But it might have been too much for an 8-year-old, Sauter said Saturday.

Murphy said encouraging an 8-year-old having a gun was "part of the recipe for disaster.

"But I don't think that's enough of an explanation, not nearly enough. He was 8. I mean, that's barely old enough as a matter of law to be held accountable. I don't think that's going to be the only explanation."

The boy's reported confession is also being examined.

How much truth can be imparted on such a statement from a child? Rodriguez asked.

"What's interesting about 8-year-olds is that we think they fantasize, they believe in, you know, Power Rangers and things like that, but they tend to be real credible when it comes to courtroom testimony and providing information to the police for the simple reason that, at 8 years old, they're not very good liars."

A Tragic Loss In A Tight-Knit Community

People in this small community are reeling from the killing of Romero, and they will likely turn out in droves for his funeral.

"I don't think this church is big enough to handle it all," said Sauter.

"The recent tragedy in our community has been very sad, an incident that makes us ask 'Why?' yet pulls our citizens together with love and support," said Ross Overson, mayor of the town in eastern Arizona. "Without exception, the entire community has been affected by this tragic loss. No community can begin to understand how something like this could happen."

Ask anyone here, and chances are they know a member of the Romero family.

"Everybody knows them because there's like 100 of them," said Marybeth Ellsworth, who played the piano at Romero's wedding in September. "They're very well-liked in the community."

A service was scheduled Sunday for Romero.

Resident Flynt Smith said Romero and Romans were "the best neighbors we've ever had." They helped out when he was installing sprinklers in his yard and when his roof needed repairs, he said.

Such relationships are common in St. Johns, a town of about 4,000 people 170 miles northeast of Phoenix, helping draw new people to the community and ensuring that those who were born there stick around as longtime residents, said Smith's wife, Amber.

"I feel you help each other raise each other's children, and you don't see that anymore," she said.

Chelsie Jaramillo, who moved into the house across the street from Vincent Romero just two weeks ago with her husband and two children, said Romero's wife, Tiffany, welcomed her and told her to holler if she ever needed anything.

"They were really nice," said Jaramillo, 19.

At St. John the Baptist, Romero sang in the choir and his wife had also signed up. The couple spent two years preparing for marriage, and when they tied the knot in September the "church was packed," Sauter said.

"Because both their parents were divorced, they wanted to make sure their marriage lasted until death, and it did," Sauter said.

Romero had full custody of the 8-year-old boy and the marriage made Tiffany Romero his stepmother. The boy's mother had visited St. Johns from Mississippi last weekend and returned to Arizona after the shootings that took place Wednesday, said Apache County Attorney Brad Carlyon.

Only two others have been killed in the town in the past 20 years.

"We're still in shock," said Carl Hamblin, who used to coach Romero in Little League. "This is so out of the norm, and to this day, I don't believe it could happen again."

Residents, religious organizations, the school district and local businesses were preparing food for the family and offering support and counseling to everyone affected by what Overson calls an "unexplainable heartache."

"God, time and the gracious service of our residents will heal each of us as we move forward," Overson said. "That is what our city is about."