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A nine-year-old boy has been charged with five counts of murder in the US

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A nine-year-old has been charged with five murders in the US as a new UN report recommends children under 14 should never be prosecuted, no matter the crime.

A nine-year-old child accused of causing a mobile home fire that killed three children and two adults in central Illinois has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

The juvenile also was charged with two counts of arson and one count of aggravated arson, the (Peoria) Journal Star reported.

The 6 April fire killed a one-year-old, two two-year-olds, a 34-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman at the Timberline Mobile Home Park near the village of Goodfield, about 240km southwest of Chicago.

Goodfield is about 240km southwest of Chicago.
Goodfield is about 240km southwest of Chicago.
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Woodford County State's Attorney Greg Minger would not reveal other details about the suspect, including a possible relationship to the victims.

Mr Minger said he scoured multiple reports on the fire before proceeding with a prosecution.

Woodford County Coroner Tim Ruestman said the fire was started intentionally.

"It was a heavy decision," Mr Minger said.

"It's a tragedy, but at the end of the day, it's charging a very young person with one of the most serious crimes we have. But I just think it needs to be done at this point, for finality."

A major challenge for prosecutors will be trying to prove the child formed an intent to kill in advance, which is required in first-degree murder cases, explained Gus Kostopoulos, a former prosecutor-turned-juvenile defence lawyer in Chicago.

"Nine-year-olds don't know that Santa Claus doesn't exist. They don't know people die and don't come back to life," he said.

"I don't know if nine-year-olds can form intent to commit murder."

A leading Illinois advocate for children ensnared in the criminal justice system sharply criticised the decision to charge a child that young with murder.

"The charges are completely out of line, given everything we have learned ... especially about the brain development of children," said Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, based in Evanston, Illinois.

Ms Clark spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday by phone from New York, where she was attending the official release of a United Nations report on the prosecution of children. It recommends that children under 14 should never be prosecuted, no matter the crime.

Ms Clark said 14 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility in many countries, including Germany.

If convicted, the child could be placed on probation for at least five years but not beyond the age of 21, Mr Minger said.

Therapy and counselling would be likely.

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