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Father Vows to Keep Away From Son He Left Scarred for Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Charles Rothenberg, freed from parole 10 years after he set his son on fire, promised Tuesday to stay away from the boy but said he longs for the day when he can see or talk to him again.

“Before I die, I’d love to have my son contact me,” said Rothenberg in a telephone interview Tuesday from San Francisco. “This is the only thing that keeps me alive.”

Rothenberg said he would abide by a restraining order that forbids him from entering Orange County. He said any contact between him and his son, David, who is now a teen-ager attending high school in Orange County, would have to be initiated by the boy.

“I wouldn’t impose on my son or his mother; they don’t have to be afraid of me,” Rothenberg said. “They have the right to feel that way, I can understand it. But it’s unfounded.”

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Rothenberg said he is sometimes approached on the streets in San Francisco by people who ask him how he could have done such a thing to his son. He doesn’t have an easy answer, he said.

“I didn’t exactly do a nice thing,” he said. “It’s bothered me for 10 years. It’s something that shouldn’t have happened.”

Rothenberg was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 1983 after he pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and arson in an attack on his son, then 6, at a Buena Park motel. Rothenberg was freed from prison in 1990 and completed his parole, complete with electronic surveillance equipment and round-the-clock guards, at midnight Monday.

“I’ve had (parole agents) around me for three years,” Rothenberg said. “Immediate loneliness sets in. I’ll miss them (the agents) but not the (monitoring) operation.”

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Rothenberg said he has held a full-time job with a “reputable company” for the last two years. He declined to say what kind of job he does and refused to name the company.

“They have been very supportive of my situation,” he said.

Rothenberg would say little about his future except that he plans to appear on “worldwide television” on an undisclosed show sometime next week to discuss the case.

“I have to set the record straight,” he said.

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