CHARLOTTE — Days after he'd been grounded, the 15-year-old accused of killing his father and stepmother ambushed them as part of his plan to run away to Mexico, prosecutors said in court Thursday.
The teen's lawyer said he'd been abused for years.
Prosecutors said he had decided to leave the family's southwest Mecklenburg County home but felt he wouldn't succeed - unless he killed his father. He had a bag packed with toiletries, clothes and underwear, prosecutors alleged. Then, he gathered guns and waited.
Details of the case surfaced Thursday afternoon as the baby-faced 15-year-old appeared in juvenile court for the first time, his eyes downcast for most of the hearing. He spoke only to recite his name. His attorney, Valerie Pearce, told the court that the teen is a battered child who experienced physical abuse from the time he was an infant. His father, 43-year-old Christian Hans Liewald, controlled his every move, she said.
"He did want to run away to escape what he was living," she said. Pearce added that relatives were afraid of his father, and the youth wasn't rescued by the systems set up to protect him.
Early Monday, the teen called 911, saying he had shot his father and stepmother, 24-year-old Cassie Meghan Buckaloo. He told police he'd wait for them at a nearby street corner.
When officers arrived at Liewald's home on Buxton Street, they found the couple dead.
On Thursday, District Court Judge Elizabeth Trosch read the charges against him: two counts of murder, armed robbery and attempted auto theft. Prosecutors indicated that the charges could be transferred to Superior Court, which means the teen would be charged as an adult.
After reading the murder charges, Trosch told the teen that if he is tried as a juvenile and convicted, he could face jail time of at least six months or until his 21st birthday.
"If you are found guilty of these events as an adult, you could be imprisoned for the rest of your natural life," she said.
His mother, Shelby Hodges, held a hand over her mouth, eyes brimming with tears.
Prosecutors said the boy, who made As and Bs, had been grounded Friday and decided he must kill his father before he'd be able to run away. When Liewald came home, the teen fired multiple shots, killing Liewald and his wife.
Prosecutors argued there was not an altercation immediately before the shooting. The teen "essentially ambushed both the victims," said prosecutor Heather Taraska.
The teen's attorney didn't dispute the allegations, but said the boy had witnessed abuse throughout his life and was "controlled and manipulated" by his father.
Since the killings, three of Liewald's ex-wives have said they suffered physical abuse at Liewald's hands. One of the women, who said she was married to Liewald before he wed his son's mother, said she lived in constant fear.
"By the end of our marriage, I was afraid of him," said the ex-wife, who asked not to be named.
Hodges, who married Liewald in 1996, said Liewald was aggressive and controlling. After the couple separated, Liewald was granted custody of their son. Until this week, Hodges had not seen her son since he was 6 years old.
Another ex-wife said she saw Liewald scream at his son, who was about 5 years old when they married. She said she sometimes heard Liewald whip the boy, and she'd see belt marks on the child's legs.
At the onset of Thursday's hearing, Pearce made a motion to close the courtroom to everyone but family. Media representatives objected. Pearce argued that the case is "very personal," saying that it was not a crime against the public and that open hearings in the case could affect the teen's mental health.
Jon Buchan, attorney for the Charlotte Observer, addressed the court, citing state law that juvenile hearings are presumed open. He noted the severity of the allegations against the 15-year-old, who is eight months shy of 16 - the age at which he'd be charged as an adult. Trosch agreed, saying that the teen is facing serious charges and his confidentiality is no longer an issue.