An autistic Simpsonville boy who at age 13 brutally stabbed his mother to death, according to investigators and a videotaped confession, will be tried for the crime as an adult, a judge has ruled.
Miguel Angel Cano, whose name was previously unpublished by The Greenville News because of his age, confessed after about half an hour of denying knowledge of what happened to his mother, according to video of his interrogation, shown during a hearing at Family Court late last year.
“I killed her at 9 o’clock,” he eventually told Greenville County Sheriff’s Office investigators without emotion. “I needed to be free.”
Isabel Zuluaga, a 44-year-old native of Colombia, was discovered lying naked on her back in a pool of blood on Sept. 1, 2015, at her home on Hipps Avenue with “at least 28” stab wounds to the torso, head, face and back, according to investigators.
A few hours later deputies found Cano walking down a road in Spartanburg County eight miles from home after he failed to report to class at Bryson Middle School.
He thought about killing his mother for months before acting on a plan the night before, he told investigators. He took some money from his mother and said he planned to steal more money as he killed others, he told investigators who asked about his plans.
Long, dark hair with tight, frizzy curls covered part of his bespectacled face as he wore a mustard-yellow prison jumpsuit and shackles at the hearing to determine if he’d be tried as an adult, with a few members of his family seated a few feet behind.
They wiped away tears as investigators described Zuluaga’s discovery and condition.
Luis Cano, Miguel’s father, who was divorced from Zuluaga, said only, “It’s very difficult.” He patted his son on the shoulder after his arrival at the second day of the hearing on Nov. 2.
Judge Alex Kinlaw Jr. ruled Miguel Cano can be tried as an adult after directing assistant solicitor Ashley Case and defense attorney Heather Scalzo to submit memorandums of law in support of their positions.
If convicted as an adult, Cano would face a sentence of no less than 30 years. If he’d been tried and convicted as a juvenile, he could’ve been released from incarceration at age 21.
Scalzo argued that a diagnosis of autism and his age make Cano best suited for trial as a juvenile, but Case, the 13th judicial circuit assistant solicitor, argued that treatment could be made available to him if he were tried as an adult, and she said risk to society called for Cano to face a stronger sentence.
He is now 14. He's being housed at the Juvenile Assessment Center in Greenville pending adjudication of his charge, and he'll soon face a court date in general sessions.
Psychologist Kimberly Hills, called by the defense, testified that she didn’t believe Cano fully understood his rights during the interrogation at least in part because of his autism. She said a strict atmosphere set in the boy’s home by his mother may have been “more than he could cope with.” Zuluaga had high expectations, according to testimony, and wanted her son to earn good grades, become more active in sports and keep his hair short.
Two Bryson Middle School teachers who worked with Cano, one in class and one in a robotics club, testified at the hearing and recalled a “polite” and “wonderful” student who excelled academically and preferred to work alone.
But the day Zuluaga was brutally stabbed to death, Cano told classmates he was “going to kill people,” and he previously posted several messages on social media about his premeditation to commit murder and bragged about being a serial killer, according to documents obtained by The Greenville News.