By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A 12-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his 8-year-old sister in their northern California home while their parents were away was due to appear in juvenile court on Wednesday to face murder charges.
Police arrested the boy on Saturday, two weeks after his sister, Leila Fowler, was slain in their Valley Springs home in a crime that sent a wave of fear through the Sierra foothills town about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento.
Authorities had initially launched a manhunt for a long-haired male intruder the boy said he had seen in the living room of the house shortly before finding his sister dead.
The siblings' father and stepmother were away at a nearby Little League baseball game at the time, authorities said.
The Calaveras County Sheriff's Office has kept silent about the case since the arrest, declining to say what led detectives to identify the older brother as a suspect. A sheriff's spokesman said several knives removed from the home, along with fingerprints and DNA evidence, were analyzed at a state crime lab.
Mark Reichel, a Sacramento attorney, told Reuters that the Fowler family had retained him to represent the boy in Calaveras County juvenile court in San Andreas, the county seat, and that he understood prosecutors had filed a petition charging the middle-school student with second-degree murder.
The court clerk's office confirmed on Wednesday that the boy, who has not been identified because he is a minor, was due to appear for a hearing late in the morning.
Because the boy is under 14, he may only be tried in juvenile court and may only be incarcerated until his 25th birthday if he is found to have committed the crime.
Since his arrest, he has been held in juvenile hall, Reichel said.
Calaveras County Judge John Martin is expected to hear the case. Juveniles are not entitled to jury trials.
Experts said, based on the circumstances known so far, the case was a very unusual one.
Kathleen Heide, a University of South Florida criminologist and author of the book, "Young Killers: The Challenge of Juvenile Homicide," told Reuters, "Killings by 12-year-olds are very, very rare."
She said jealousy, sibling rivalry, anger, mental illness, accidents and a preoccupation with violent imagery tend to set off killings of a brother or sister.
Franklin Zimring, a University of California at Berkeley School of Law professor, concurred. "Lethal violence with 12-year-olds is extraordinarily rare," he said.
Police urged residents of Valley Springs, a town of about 3,500 people, to stay home with their doors locked while they searched for the tall, long-haired intruder described by the victim's brother.
"I know my son would never hurt his sister," the children's biological mother told a local television station the day before the boy's arrest. She said she had been battling for custody with the children's father.
Leila and her 12-year-old brother lived with their father, their stepmother and five other children in a blended family household.
(This story has been fixed to correct the day in paragraph one to Wednesday from Thursday)
(Editing by Steve Gorman, Cynthia Johnston and Kenneth Barry)