Originally created 05/05/04

Neighbors question girl's death



CARROLLTON, Ga. - Neighbors at the Twin Oaks Mobile Home Park are still trying to piece together what they know about a child's murder in their back yard: Amy Yates got on her bicycle to go to a friend's house and disappeared.

About five hours later, after a statewide search, the 8-year-old's body was found in a nearby gully.

The next day, a 12-year-old neighbor known as a home-schooled, cigarette-bumming troublemaker was arrested in the third-grader's strangulation.

Now, one week later, authorities still aren't saying why the boy would kill Amy, what his name is or how she ended up dead.

"The little boy was a little bit more rowdy toward little girls," said Lynn Nolan, whose daughter, Nickie, was good friends with Amy. "He was a little bit more violent than he should be."

But other residents who live along the three streets that run through the mobile home park question whether the boy was even capable of the crime.

They wonder how a child weighing less than 100 pounds could strangle Amy and haul the fully clothed body to a ditch dozens of yards from the trailer park. Police, while refusing to go into details or motive, have insisted the boy acted alone and did not sexually molest her.

"Deep down, he was a really good kid," said neighbor Tim Wellham. "If he did do this, he was put up to it. He hangs out with some other teens who were bad eggs."

The boy's attorney denies the child interacted with Amy that day, and that police arrested him only after four hours of grueling interrogation without his parents present.

"If there was an admission, it was not only under duress, it was flat wrong," said the attorney, Gerald Word. "I could have this 12-year-old admit to killing John Kennedy."

But Amy's father, Tom Yates, has said the boy told him he had seen her earlier in the day.

The case has raised questions about how juveniles should be handled by authorities.

Should their parents be present during all questioning? Should the boy be tried as an adult because of the crime's brutality, even though he's only 12?

The district attorney, Pete Skandalakis, said the boy would be prosecuted as a juvenile because under state law, a person must be at least 13 years old to be considered an adult.

The boy and his friends had a reputation for stealing bicycles and breaking into abandoned mobile homes. Mr. Yates has said he complained to police about the boy's theft of a tennis racket and one of his daughter's bikes.