MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis-area teenager has been charged in adult court with setting an April house fire that killed his mother, authorities said Friday.
Jonathan Ray, 15, has faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree murder while committing aggravated arson, according to the Shelby County district attorney's office.
Ray's attorneys said he suffers from mental illness and needs treatment as a juvenile, not adult prosecution. If convicted, Ray could face life in prison without parole.
Ray was 14 when he was arrested after the early-morning fire at a Shelby County home April 5. Ray's mother, Gwendolyn Wallace, 45, died in the blaze.
Investigators said Ray used gasoline to set the fire on stairs that led to his mother's second-floor bedroom, trapping her upstairs. The teen set the fire after an earlier disagreement with his mom, according to a court affidavit.
Wallace, a U.S. Postal Service employee, had earlier taken Ray's cellphone and barred him from seeing his girlfriend for two weeks, investigators said.
Ray's case was transferred to adult court in June. At a juvenile court hearing, Special Judge Dan Michael told Ray that Wallace's death was "premeditated and aggressive."
A former high school football player, Ray is being held in the juvenile facility at Shelby County Jail East.
Public defender Gerald Skahan said Friday that it is difficult for a boy who just turned 15 a few days ago to understand the magnitude of a first-degree murder indictment.
"The public hearings in juvenile court exposed just how Jonathan's mind is and how his thought process is more of a small child's than even a young adult's," Skahan said.
Because Ray is charged with first-degree murder, authorities have identified him in documents and in open court.