Tennessee Boy Found Guilty in Murder Of Neighbor Girl

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In a story that has gained international attention, Benjamin Nicolas Tiller, 11, has been found guilty of first degree murder in the shotgun death of his neighbor, MaKayla Dyer, 8, stemming from a dispute that escalated over puppies.

Tiller, of Jefferson Township, Tennessee, has been in custody since the October 3, 2015 murder. He has been remanded to a Youthful Offender prison where he is ordered to stay for the next nine years.

Jefferson County Juvenile Court Judge Dennis "Will" Roach II, said after the two day trial, of the facts presented Tiller was "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, of the unlawful, intentional and premeditated murder of McKayla Dyer. He did not come to her aid or show remorse."

On Saturday October 3, McKayla, and two other girls both 11 including McKayla's sister Kattie, were playing with puppies near her neighbor's property. Benny, a slight boy, and nearly 25-30 lbs underweight for the average 11 year old, was talking to the girls through a window and asked he could see the puppy.

This is where the situation becomes murky as two children are hearing words and translating them through under or malnourished minds, limited cognitive development and poor if any social skills.

MaKayla said "no" as in her mind the puppy would have left her care and as any good caregiver she was concerned over the puppy being outside her direct view.

Benjamin asked if he could see the puppy, through the window, translating "can I hold the puppy and bring the puppy inside the trailer." What is clear is that she said "no."

Tiller, it is said, turned, left the window area, went to the unlocked gun closet, returned to the window with two guns, a 12 gauge shotgun and a BB gun, pointed the shotgun, fired one shot striking McKayla above her heart, threw both weapons outside the window, shut the window and never stepped outside the trailer.  No adult from the Tiller home inquired about the gunshot or the child that lie bleeding to death outside the window.

The girls playing with McKayla summoned help. McKayla was transported to a nearby hospital where she died of a single gunshot wound.

Pint Sized Malnourished Cold Blooded Killer

Benny Tiller was the runt of the litter. In the middle of five other siblings, three brothers and two sisters, in a single wide in a low income trailer park in Tennessee, the killer lived in the shadows.

Presumably escaping the watchful eye of his teachers as malnutrition and other social developmental issues are common in this part of Tennessee, where poverty and the cascading issues including food insecurities are often well hidden.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 80% of the population in Jefferson Township graduate from high school, few,13%, go on to college. Homeownership is common at 74%. Incomes have taken a hit over the past eight years and as predicted the first to experience the deep hits will be the last to recover.

Poverty is common, cloaked and well-hidden as are other social ills. A small framed little boy, described by the jailer as "tiny" would be called little for his age.

Malnourished, hungry or starving, would never have been discussed. And at 25-30 lbs below the national average for his age, those terms and the subsequent effects on Benjamin’s mental condition over time would not have been thought of as playing a role on that Saturday in October when he was told he couldn’t play with the puppy.

Cognitive Implications of Malnutrition

The long term cognitive complications of malnutrition can lead to reduced social skills, reduced language development, reduced problem solving abilities, memory deficit, decreased IQ scores, impaired school performance, attention deficit disorder.

All of these issues were present in Benjamin Tiller, and presented in nearly every report of the case. Without a mental evaluation, the simple rendering of the facts prove the chapter heading cognitive complications.

Child Access Prevention in Tennessee

On September 1, 2015, just one month before the murder of McKayla Dyer, State Lawmakers enacted legislation that "prohibits a parent or guardian from intentionally, knowingly or recklessly providing a handgun to a juvenile or permitting a juvenile access."

While Tennessee has weaker standards for criminal liability when a child is allowed access to a firearm, and in Tennessee the law specifically states "handgun" and not "all weapons," additional criminal charges may result. The guilty party in this case may also be the parents or guardians present at the Tiller residence on that Saturday.

The Tiller parents were home at the time of the murder. The gun closet unlocked. Although the prosecutor has mentioned this portion of the case is over the case is not closed and they will be examining the evidence to determine if other people or charges will be.

Accessory After the Fact

Parental responsibility comes into question as the closet was unlocked, the weapon was by admission Mr. Tiller's and access was permitted. 

Assuming all evidence was gathered properly including gun residue, fingerprints of shotgun, gun closet and gun shooting skills. A kick on a 12 gauge for a 55 lb boy should’ve left a solid and sizable bruise.

Granted it wouldn’t take gun skills to strike a target standing right outside a window, less than three feet away.

Cold Blooded Willful Murderer with Full Mental Capabilities

Is Benny Nicolas Tiller a cold blooded willful murderer with full mental capabilities to understand his actions?

That is a three part question and without the presence of a greater legal mind with laws, precedence and encyclopedic case knowledge it becomes a question of common sense.

Yes, factually he is a cold blooded murderer or so he has been pronounced. Having the ability to handle a gun, doesn’t necessarily equate to the knowledge of the finality of his actions.

As no insanity or information on court appointed mental determinations were made public the mental instability questions and more important Benny’s understanding of his actions remain unclear.

The competency requirement or understanding in a juvenile proceeding may have different points outside that of adult proceedings such as the recent Slenderman cases. No determination on the ability to understand the proceedings and trail was presented. As he is remanded to a Youthful Offender prison the law or parameters of the law may be different.

While he has been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the facts surrounding the case, the mental competency becomes the question. It seems impossible for a malnourished mind or a child’s mind to understand the proceedings and the scope of his actions.

Image courtesy of Google image.

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