A 7-year-old caught shoplifting 29-cent plastic squirt guns with a friend was convicted in a formal, 1 1/2-hour juvenile court trial before a judge who said: "We want to impress the child that this is not the way to go."

Winona County Judge S.A. Sawyer said yesterday that court officials were preparing a "social history" of the boy to help the judge decide disposition of the case.

An assistant county attorney prosecuted the case and a court reporter and court clerk were present for the Aug. 3 trial. However, Minnesota law specifies that "a violation of a state or local law or ordinance by a child before becoming 18 years of age is not a crime," and that adjudication by a juvenile court does not deem a child to be a criminal.

County Attorney Julius Gernes said be went through with the trial because the boy had been in trouble previously and the county wanted jurisdiction so it could help him.

"He duped me like hell," the youth's defense counsel said. "I let him go to trial because he told me time and time again that he only did it because he was forced to do it."

However, another 7-year-old boy testified at the trial that the two youths had simply decided to steal the toys.