Crime & Justice

Riverside County DA to charge slain SoCal boy's relative with murder

Investigators dig behind a Menifee property in the search for a missing 11-year-old boy on Wednesday July 10, 2013.
Investigators dig behind a Menifee property in the search for a missing 11-year-old boy on Wednesday July 10, 2013.

Update 12:23 p.m. An unnamed 16-year-old relative of the 11-year-old boy found dead earlier this week in Southern California will be charged with one count of murder, prosecutors said Friday.

The suspect was expected to make a first court appearance on Monday in juvenile court in the death of 11-year-old Terry Dewayne Smith Jr., whose disappearance Sunday led hundreds of volunteers to search for four days in triple-digit heat.

On Wednesday, authorities announced they had found a body matching the description of Terry Jr. in a shallow grave under a tree behind the house he shared with his mother, half-brother and other family members.

Riverside County prosecutors have also asked for a court hearing to determine whether the suspect should be tried as an adult, said John Hall, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

Previously: Terry Dewayne Smith Sr. had been expecting his 11-year-old son to fly home this summer to live with him in West Virginia after two years with his mom in Southern California.

On Thursday, the bereaved father talked about flying Terry Dewayne Smith Jr.'s ashes back to West Virginia instead.

The boy was reported missing Sunday, prompting a massive search. On Wednesday, authorities announced they had found a body matching Terry Jr.'s description in a shallow grave under a tree behind his mother's house.

A 16-year-old boy related to Terry Jr. was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of murder, but the suspect's name has not been released. 

"All I want to do is get Terry Jr. back here because that was the last thing he told me on the phone," said Smith Sr., a 62-year-old retired truck driver. "He wanted to come home."

Initial reports from the mother, relayed by law enforcement, described Terry Jr. as an autistic boy who took special medication and answered only to his nickname, "JuJu." His father, however, insisted that his son was not autistic.

The boy lived with him until 2011, when he went to live with his mother, and was a normal kid who loved video games and baseball, he said.

"He was a very bright, well-adjusted child, at least he was when he left here," said Smith Sr. "He pushed buttons and would aggravate you. But, other than that, it was just the typical way ... of a typical boy trying to get his way."

A phone listing for the boy's mother, Shawna Smith, was disconnected. Messages left at a second number associated with her address were not returned.

Investigators told Smith Sr. that Terry Jr. died after a hit to the head but declined to say more, citing a request from police who are still working the case.

Hundreds of volunteers searched for Terry Jr. for more than three days in abandoned trailers and campsites tucked into the scrubby hillsides of rural Riverside County, where horse ranches dot the landscape and large stretches of land remain undeveloped. Sheriff's deputies fanned out on horseback and with bloodhounds in the triple-digit heat and helicopters buzzed overhead, searching for clues.

A detective involved in the search gave credit for the discovery of the body to a volunteer woman who said she had a vision of where to find Terry.

Detective John Powers told KFI-AM radio on Thursday that Pam Ragland and her children came to the property where investigators, including him, had searched thoroughly already and found the body immediately.

"She actually went right up the driveway of the house, on to the property, and right up to the body of this boy," Powers said. "Not in 23 years have I ever seen anything like this."