A 17-year-old boy who admitted to accidentally killing his autistic half brother and then panicking and burying his body behind their Southern California home was sentenced on Friday to 12 years in a lockup.
Skylor Atilano admitted to killing Terry Dewayne Smith Jr. in Menifee, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Terry was reported missing July 7 and his case prompted a massive search by authorities and hundreds of volunteers.
Three days later, authorities discovered the boy's partially exposed body behind his mother's home. Atilano was charged with murder.
For the past 12 months, his mother, Shawna Smith, has been going to the hearings at the courthouse, hoping a judge wouldn't try her son as an adult because he could face life in prison. Instead, he faces the maximum 12 years because he was tried as a juvenile.
Smith defended her son, saying it was an accident when the two were likely rough housing and Terry hit his head on a coffee table.
"My kids did rough house. I joined in with them," she said. It was probably one of those ... a simple push and that's all it took."
Shawna Smith believes Atilano was too scared to tell anyone about what happened. So, in a panic, he secretly buried his half brother's body in their backyard.
"He cries," Shawna Smith said. "He still has problems sleeping ... Gone through bouts of depression."
Terry's disappearance struck an emotional chord with the community. Hundreds searched for the little boy across three counties.
When his body was finally found, Shawna Smith and her then-partner Dennise Bugna faced an angry public backlash.
"Walk a mile in my shoes before you judge," she said.
Despite it all Shawna Smith has mourned the loss of Terry and stood by Atilano.
"It's been a roller coaster of emotion," she said. "You have your good days, your bad days. I've had many bad days."
Shawna says while in juvenile custody, Atilano is changing for the better. He graduated from high school and continues to attend anger management meetings. He even trained a dog that she recently adopted.
"It was an accident gone awry," she said. "And Sky is still my son. I still love him. I give him that unconditional love."