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Oregon teenager with severe autism accused in death.

Byline: The Associated Press

COOS BAY - A Coos County teenager who once attacked an instructor and is described as severely autistic and unable to speak has been charged with murder in the death of a 59-year-old woman who lived with his father.

The suspect was identified as Henry Cozad, 18, who lived in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Coos Bay with his father, Fred, and Linda Foley.

Authorities wouldn't say how Foley died on Thursday, except to label it "homicidal violence" and say details would await an autopsy.

District Attorney R. Paul Frasier told The World of Coos Bay that he couldn't prosecute the youth for an attack last year on special education instructor Tim Waits, but he would press a murder case against him in Foley's death. He said, though, that the severity of Cozad's disability would play a role.

"There's a problem with prosecuting people with extreme mental issues because under the law you have to be competent to proceed. ... That basically means you need to be aware of the charges against you, and you have to be able to assist in your defense," Frasier said.

Waits told the newspaper on Friday that when he learned Cozad had been arrested, he felt guilty he hadn't done more.

"I was afraid something like this would happen," he said. "I had a feeling he was going to kill someone."

In February 2008, Waits said, the two were in a house on the Marshfield High School campus used for life skills training when Cozad attacked.

The boy put him in a headlock and shoved him against walls, Waits said. The attack damaged his spinal cord.

"In my personal opinion this student, had he grabbed anyone else, he most likely would have killed them," he wrote in an April victim's impact statement.

He asked that Cozad be placed in a group home.

Waits said Cozad had hurt other employees over the years.

The director of the South Coast Education Service District life skills program, Tenneal Wetherell, could not verify that. She said Cozad has had a long-term struggle with social behavior.

After a suspension, Cozad returned to school, under the supervision of two adult specialists, Wetherell said.

He most recently was enrolled in the adult transition program, although Cozad hadn't attended weekly classes in about a month. He was kept away from other students, she said.

District Superintendent George Woodruff said it is a challenge to help students such as Cozad.

"When you have someone who is nonverbal, how do you communicate with them? How do we respond to people with such needs?" he asked. "It's a challenge for the whole community."
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Title Annotation:Wire West
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 15, 2009
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