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CALAVERAS COUNTY — The father of a 12-year-old boy arrested in the fatal stabbing of his 8-year-old sister said Monday that he will believe his son is innocent until he is shown evidence that proves otherwise.

Valley Springs resident Barney Fowler said the family is standing behind the boy, who was arrested Saturday in the April 27 slaying of his sister in the family’s home in the rural, hilly Rancho Calaveras subdivision.

“Until they have the proper evidence to show it’s my son, we’re standing behind him,” Fowler said. “If they have the evidence, well, that’s another story. We’re an honest family.”

The boy told investigators April 27 that he encountered an attacker in the family home. He described the man as being tall, with long, gray hair. The boy said the man fled and he found his sister, Leila Fowler, bleeding.

In the two weeks after Leila was fatally stabbed, Rancho Calaveras residents were on edge, locking their doors and windows and in some cases carrying loaded firearms as the killer remained free.

They held fund-raisers for the Fowler family, and more than 1,000 turned out for a candlelight vigil in Leila’s honor.

“We’re thankful to the community, and all they’ve done for my daughter,” Barney Fowler said.

The Calaveras County Probation Department and district attorney’s office did not return multiple phone calls and emails seeking comment Monday. But at some point in the day, the district attorney’s office left a message on its main phone line stating that prosecutors have not received all the police reports in the case and won’t make a decision on filing charges until they have reviewed all the reports.

If charges are filed against Leila’s brother, his case will be heard in Juvenile Court. He’s too young to be tried as an adult in criminal court. Children must be at least 14 for prosecutors to have the option of trying them as adults, said Randy Fischer, one of the two Stanislaus County prosecutors assigned to juvenile cases.

A preteen homicide defendant is highly unusual. “It’s rare for someone as young as 12,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Bill Sessa said.

Judge makes the call in Juvenile Court

When he checked a couple of months ago, Sessa said, the state corrections department’s Division of Juvenile Justice had a 13-year-old in its system who a judge determined had committed a homicide.

In Juvenile Court, prosecutors file petitions, which contain the charges against a defendant, and the judge holds a jurisdiction hearing to determine whether the defendant committed the crime. The judge has to determine guilt with the same standard used in criminal court, beyond a reasonable doubt.

If a Juvenile Court judge determines that the 12-year-old brother killed Leila, Sessa said, the judge could put the boy under the care of the Division of Juvenile Justice until age 23. But it’s rare to send a child that young there. The judge could send the boy to a group home or a county program for youthful offenders.

Rehabilitation is the goal

Sessa said most young offenders are more likely to be sent to a county probation program than to a state facility. He said that’s a trend that started about two decades ago, based on research that youthful offenders do better in facilities closer to home and can see their family.

Sessa said there is an age limit on how long a county probation department can hold a young offender.

He said whether an offender is placed with the Division of Juvenile Justice or a county probation program, the emphasis is on rehabilitation.

The goal is to help offenders take responsibility for their actions and address the shortcomings, such as poor impulse control or anger management skills, that contribute to them getting into trouble.

“Even though rehabilitation is something we stress in the adult system as well,” Sessa said, “it is the foundation of the juvenile justice system. … The entire philosophy of the juvenile justice system is based on the belief that juveniles still are developing mentally; their reasoning ability still is evolving; their value system still is evolving. They are very effective in responding to rehabilitation programs.”

Victim’s brother Isaiah Fowler charged with second degree murder.