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Child psychologist weighs in on accused young shooter's mental state

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As Jefferson County prosecutors proceeded on their case against an 11-year-old accused of killing a neighbor, experts cautioned the young defendant is not even finished with his physical and emotional development.

The White Pine boy is accused of shooting to death his 8-year-old neighbor. He's accused of being delinquent by first-degree murder, the means by which juveniles are disciplined in the state system.

Bond has been set at $500,000. He's being held in Knox County.

Shot to death was MaKayla Dyer. She died Saturday night, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Bud McCoig.

In the state of Tennessee, a juvenile may be transferred to Criminal Court if he or she is 16 years or more of age at the time of the alleged conduct.

If the offender was under the age of 16 at the time of the alleged crime, he or she may tried as an adult if he or she was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, among other violent offenses.

"In this case, it would be doubtful. Our research shows that in the history of the state of Tennessee, no 11-year-old has been transferred for first-degree murder," said defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs.

Isaacs believes it is doubtful, because prosecutors would have to prove he was fully aware that what he is accused of doing was criminal.

Diana McCoy, a veteran child psychologist, does not know the 11-year-old defendant. Additionally, she cannot answer why 8-year-old MaKayla Dyer was killed.

"My thoughts were that we really don't know what may have been going on in the boy's mind or what may have caused this to happen," said McCoy.

McCoy, relying on her experience, can offer insight into the minds of children around age 11.

"Eleven to 12 is kind of a borderline threshold - for when we go from more of a childlike reasoning to starting to develop more adultlike reasoning skills," said McCoy.

Though on the borderline,11-year-old minds are still missing key developments.

"Children that age have not developed moral judgment, good reasoning. They can't be expected to understand long-range consequences of their behavior," said McCoy.

That understanding of long-term consequences is exactly what prosecutors would need to prove, if the boy accused of shooting MaKayla were to be tried as an adult.

"The defense is going to have experts evaluating his mental state. The prosecution is going to have experts make him look more like an adult," said Isaacs.

Whichever way the boy is charged, McCoy says two lives have changed forever.

"This precious child lost her life, and is such a loss to the community. But he also pays a terrible price. Because as he grows and develops, he'll have to come to terms with that," said McCoy.

McCoy agrees with Isaacs and says it is unlikely this boy will be tried as an adult.

If he's tried as a minor, the longest sentence he could receive would make him a free man at age 19.

The boy will be back in Juvenile Court in Jefferson County later this month.

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