The case against a 14-year-old Elkmont boy charged with killing five family members could remain in the juvenile system or an effort could be made to try him as an adult, law enforcement and judicial officials said Wednesday.
The teenager is charged with five counts of juvenile murder and could be charged as an adult with multiple counts of murder and/or capital murder, pending the adjudication process, Limestone County Sheriff's Office spokesman Stephen Young said.
Authorities have said the boy confessed to the shooting deaths, which occurred Monday. The boy remains in a juvenile detention facility.
Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones said he can’t comment on the case or whether his office will seek to have the case transferred from juvenile court. Jones and a retired judge did outline how the legal process would work for a 14-year-old defendant.
Retired Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson said that “if you’re 14 or 15 and commit an adult crime, you start out in juvenile court and it’s up to a juvenile court judge whether to certify you as an adult.”
If a case is transferred to adult court, "it proceeds like a regular case and goes to a grand jury,” Jones said.
“If the petition is denied, (the case) stays in juvenile court,” Jones said. "If a juvenile is found 'delinquent,' the equivalent of guilty in juvenile court, the juvenile court judge has a wide array of sentencing options through the Alabama Department of Youth Services."
Each case is handled on a case by case basis, he said, because there's no set range of punishment like adult court.
Jones said that state law allows prosecutors to file a petition to transfer a case from juvenile court to district or circuit court, “if a person hasn’t reached the age of 16 and hasn’t been charged as an adult."
A juvenile court judge would set a hearing, like a “mini trial,” on the petition, according to Jones.
“Based upon the factors in the statute, if a judge finds that we have met our burden of proof, the judge issues an order to transfer the case from juvenile court to adult court jurisdiction,” he said.
The law further states that only if there are no reasonable grounds to believe the child is committable to an institution, department or agency for people with an intellectual disability or mental illness may the juvenile court judge order the case transferred for criminal prosecution.
According to the law dealing with transfers from juvenile court, evidence of the following six factors and other relevant factors are to be considered in determining whether a motion will be granted:
• The nature of the present alleged offense.
• The extent and nature of the prior delinquency record of the child.
• The nature of past treatment efforts and the nature of the response of the child to the efforts.
• The extent and nature of the physical and mental maturity of the child.
• The interests of the community and of the child.
“A prosecutor could give 59 different reasons why (an individual) should be certified as an adult,” Thompson said.
If a child is in a juvenile detention facility, “in addition to an initial appearance, a juvenile court judge would set a detention hearing to decide whether a child stays there or is released,” Jones said.
According to Young, the victims were the shooter's father John Wayne Sisk, 38; his stepmother Mary Sisk, 35; and three half-siblings: a 6-year-old boy; a 5-year-old girl; and a 6-month-old boy.
He declined to release the names of the half-siblings.
The shooting took place at the family's residence, 25019 Ridge Road, where all six family members lived, Young said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
The handgun was in the residence illegally, Young said, and the 14-year-old assisted investigators in finding the 9 mm handgun on the side of a nearby road where he had tossed it.
Limestone County Coroner Mike West said he pronounced three of the victims dead at the scene. The other two victims, an adult and a juvenile, were initially in critical condition and were airlifted to Huntsville Hospital and Children's of Alabama in Birmingham, the Sheriff's Office said, but later died.
John Sisk worked at KV RV Repairs in Hartselle, and Mary Sisk was a seventh grade special education teacher at Huntsville City Schools.