He gets schooling behind bars; their father is "devastated" amid reports of longtime family turmoil

By Mike Fleeman
June 04, 2013 04:00 PM
Courtesy Fowler Family

At Juvenile Hall in Placerville, Calif., in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a 12-year-old boy gets his schoolwork delivered by guards. He’s allowed some exercise. His father visits twice a week.

Otherwise, he has spent most of his time alone in a cell.

The boy, whose name has not been officially released because he’s a minor, is charged with fatally stabbing his brown-haired bespectacled 8-year-old sister, Leila Fowler, in a case that stunned the little town of Valley Springs, 50 miles to the south.

At a closed-door session in the Calaveras County court on May 29, he pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder with a special allegation for use of force with a deadly weapon, then was sent to the closest juvenile facility, in bordering El Dorado County, to await his fate the court system.

“Our view of the case hasn’t changed, from when we got in,” one of his Sacramento-based attorneys, Mark Reichel, told reporters after the proceeding. “We got in believing our client is innocent and as we stand here today, that’s what we believe.”

Barney Fowler
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

While in jail, the boy is “holding up okay under the circumstances,” Reichel tells PEOPLE. “It’s not ideal. He’d much rather be home with his family.”

The next hearing isn’t until July 31, when his attorneys will seek a trial date. How long the child will remain in Juvenile Hall without bond depends on both legal and personal factors.

“The family is in a state of flux,” says his other attorney, Steven Plesser. “They were moving away when this happened. It really has caused quite a lot of chaos in their life. A stable residence for him to be released to isn’t really available.”

According to court records, the boy’s family had financial troubles – his father Barney Fowler, 37, had at least seven children born to four mothers, with five of the children living in the house at the time of Leila’s killing, The Record of Stockton reports.

Records also show a dispute over visitation and child support between Barney Fowler and the mother of Leila and her brother; the mother does not live with them, The Record reports.

Leila and her brother were in the rental home on a Saturday in April while the adults were at a Little League game when Leila was stabbed multiple times. The boy told police that he had discovered his mortally wounded sister and then described the possible killer as a muscular white or Hispanic man with long, gray hair.

Mark Reichel and Steven Plesser
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

An intensive manhunt of the remote hilly region left residents fearful and prompted authorities to set up a roadblock, allowing only people with proper identification in and out of Spring Valley.

At a vigil for Leila, several family members spoke, including her brother. “I’m not saying goodbye to Leila,” he said. “I’m saying ‘See you later.’ There are no goodbyes.”

Two weeks after the attack, the brother was arrested. Prosecutors have not revealed the evidence against him. Under state law, no child under 14 may be tried as an adult. No matter what happens, the boy must be released from incarceration by age 23.

In the meantime, his father, who retained the attorneys, goes to Placerville, a historic gold country community, to see his son during the regular twice-weekly visitation sessions.

“He’s devastated at the loss of his daughter and he’s really concerned about the circumstances of his son,” says Plesser. “He loves all of his children and he’s very concerned about what’s going to happen with his son next, too. He’s still mourning the loss of his daughter very much.”