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Man Faces 3 Murder Counts in Family Deaths : Courts: Edward Charles III is accused of killing his parents and brother, whose bodies were found in a burning car. Special circumstance allegation could mean death sentence if he is convicted.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Prosecutors on Monday charged a young gas station mechanic with triple counts of murder, including a special circumstance that could mean a death sentence, for allegedly killing three family members whose bodies were found in a burning car.

Edward Charles III, who remains in custody without bail, appeared briefly Monday in Municipal Court in Fullerton to be formally charged with slaying his parents and a younger brother. He was ordered back Nov. 28 to enter a plea.

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. David Brent said prosecutors will wait until a preliminary hearing is completed before deciding whether the death penalty will be sought if Charles, 22, is convicted of multiple murder.

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During the preliminary hearing, a judge will determine whether there’s enough evidence to order Charles to stand trial for killing his parents, Edward and Delores Charles, and his 19-year-old brother, Danny.

An unshaved Charles, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, responded clearly to Municipal Judge Stephen J. Sundvold during the hearing Monday, although at one point he showed some confusion, asking, “I can’t enter a plea now?”

Family and friends in the courtroom, including his fiancee, Tiffany Bowen, sitting in the front row, declined comment after the proceedings.

Investigators are still seeking a motive for the slayings, and many other questions remain unanswered.

“Just about anything’s a possibility at this time,” said Lt. Ray Peavy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the agency leading the murder investigation.

Edward Charles, 55, an aircraft engineer at Hughes Aircraft, Dolores Charles, 47, a self-employed typist, and Danny Charles, a promising opera singer and performer in his second year at USC, were found Nov. 7 in Danny Charles’ car in La Mirada.

Investigators believe they were attacked the night before, put in the car and hidden at an unknown location until Monday night.

The grisly discovery--and the arrest two days later in Fullerton of the family’s eldest son--stunned the well-to-do neighborhood where the Charles family lived for at least 12 years.

Edward Charles had been a youth soccer-club coach and Dolores Charles was a former club president who later volunteered to run publicity and ticket sales for performances at the Orange County High School of the Arts in Los Alamitos, where Danny Charles graduated in 1992 with a bundle of drama awards and Student of the Year honors.

A search found evidence that at least one of the victims was attacked inside the family’s home, but detectives did not find a weapon there, Peavy said. An autopsy determined that Edward and Danny Charles had been bludgeoned to death with a hammer-like instrument. Danny, whose unburned body was found in the trunk, also had been stabbed. Authorities say the body of Dolores Charles was so badly burned that they haven’t been able to determine how she was killed.

Charles’ grandfather told police he last saw Danny at 6 p.m. Nov. 6, when the teen-ager left his parents’ home to return to his USC dorm.

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The grandfather told detectives Danny had not called his parents by 11 p.m. that night, and they could not reach him. They remained up and worried as the grandfather went to sleep.

At 9:30 p.m. that night, a neighbor called 911 and told Fullerton police she had heard a man’s voice screaming for help from the trunk of a car nearby. When police arrived, the car was gone.

Although a motive remains elusive, Brent said he’s “confident we have the evidence we need to convict Mr. Charles.” He would not elaborate.

A private memorial service was to be held for family and USC students Monday night at a campus church.

Meanwhile, Fullerton police said Monday that Edward Charles III is a suspect in an unsolved 1990 arson at a home next to his family’s residence.

Charles was questioned about the case at the time but never charged, said Fullerton Sgt. Dan Becerra. Charles told investigators he was home and spotted the smoke nearby but did not call authorities, Becerra said.

Although fingerprints found at the fire-damaged home at the time were tested over the weekend and do not match Charles’, “we’re still looking at him as a suspect,” Becerra said.

Police interest in the arson case was revived after Charles was arrested last Wednesday in connection with the slayings of his parents and brother.

Investigators hoped to link Charles to the arson fire to establish that he might have a tendency to set fires to cover up crimes, Becerra said. The house had been burglarized before three separate fires were set inside.

Becerra said Charles also was questioned once as a witness in connection with a 1990 burglary in which jewelry and checks were taken from a home in the area. Charles later tried to use one of the checks to buy prom tickets, but he told police he found the check on the grounds at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, Becerra said.

Charles also was involved in a 1988 vandalism in which a car was damaged, Becerra said. Though Charles said a friend caused the damage, Charles’ mother paid the owner $668 to cover the damages, Becerra said.

During the hearing Monday, the judge appointed the Orange County public defender’s office to represent Charles and ordered that he remain in custody without bail.

Deputy Public Defender Marion Wheeler accepted the case in the courtroom Monday but said later that it would be referred to his main office in Santa Ana for assignment. Other than a few words in court, Wheeler said he had not talked to Charles or had a chance to review the case file.


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