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4 Teen-Agers Deny Torching Schools in Escondido

Times Staff Writer

Four Escondido high school students denied Thursday that they had a part in four arsons at Escondido schools and were ordered to undergo psychiatric tests while remaining in custody at Juvenile Hall.

The four are a 17-year-old senior at Valley Continuation High School charged only in the March 10 fire and burglary at an Escondido High School portable classroom, a 16-year-old sophomore girl at Valley charged with two counts of burglary and two of arson involving fires at Orange Glen High School and Del Dios Middle School, and two teen-age boys, charged with arson and burglary in each of four fires that caused more than $1 million in damages.

The suspects, handcuffed in pairs, appeared Thursday morning before Superior Court Judge Sheridan Reed, presiding judge of the juvenile courts, who denied petitions from three of the youths for release to their parents and ordered the psychiatric examinations.

Attorney Richard E. Mills, representing one of the youths, argued that the boy had no criminal record, would not be a danger to society and should be allowed to return to his classes so he can graduate in June, and also return to his after-school job.

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But Reed said she will release the youngsters only after court-ordered psychiatric exams are completed and some showing can be made that the arsons were “a total aberration” in the behavior of the teen-agers.

Three fires set last Saturday night destroyed the theater arts section of the Escondido High multipurpose building and heavily damaged the cafeteria and food-preparation areas of the same building, gutted three classrooms and damaged others at Orange Glen High and caused about $35,000 damage to a portable classroom and storage building at Del Dios.

Carlos O. Armour, chief deputy district attorney for the juvenile courts, said his office will seek to try all four teen-agers as adults because of the major damage that occurred and the possibility that loss of life could have occurred.

Armour acknowledged that the four had no criminal records but pointed to the “thousands of North County citizens” who were traumatized by the torching of the three Escondido school buildings.

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Reed set April 11 hearings for the decision on whether the four will be tried as adults or juveniles. If tried as adults in Superior Court, two of the youths could face maximum prison terms of up to 36 years--six years’ sentence on each of four arson counts, and three years’ sentence on each of the four burglary counts, Armour said.

Parents of the four teen-agers sat in Reed’s courtroom during the brief hearing, their eyes on their youngsters. The four suspects, clad casually in sweat-shirts, T-shirts, slacks and jeans, were brought into the court through a back entrance. The four kept their heads bowed during much of the hearing, not returning their parents’ stares.


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