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Boy Cleared of Involvement in 4 Sisters’ Deaths

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Homicide detectives Friday ruled out any involvement of a 14-year-old boy in the asphyxiation deaths of four young girls Tuesday in Santa Clarita.

“He’s a victim,” said Deputy Joan Raber, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The youth, David Nieves, was in the home when his two sisters and two half sisters, sprawled in sleeping bags on the kitchen floor, died in a lethal cloud of natural gas from an oven allegedly turned on by their mother, officials said.

Police accused Sandi Nieves, 34, of coaxing the girls into the kitchen for a slumber party.

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The mother, who had been fighting to hang on to her children in an ugly custody battle with her former husband, had told a judge she was concerned about their safety. On Thursday, she was arrested on suspicion of murdering them.

She attempted to cover up the slayings by using gasoline to set the house on fire, officials said. The blaze caused little damage, but sent her and her son to a hospital, suffering from smoke inhalation.

On Thursday night, she was transferred from Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita to the jail ward at County-USC Medical Center. Her arraignment on murder charges is scheduled for Monday in Santa Clarita.

Her son was reported in good condition at Newhall Hospital on Friday afternoon, said spokeswoman Janice Newbold.

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Her former husband, David Folden, 47, of Perris, spent Friday calling funeral homes.

“You have no idea what I’m going through now, trying to deal with all this,” he said. “I’ve got funeral arrangements to take care of. I have to lay my kids to rest.”

On Friday, the coroner’s office conducted autopsies on the girls but said it would not release the official cause of death until a battery of toxicology tests is completed.

The killings occurred a day before Sandi Nieves and Folden were to appear in a Riverside County court to reconsider custody of the children. The couple separated in February 1997, and she later moved from Perris to Santa Clarita.

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“It was a real bad divorce, real bad,” said Sandi Nieves’ father, Kenneth Kellner of Monticello, Ind. “In her will, she said that if anything happened to her, the police should check out David.”

During court proceedings in Riverside, Folden had asked for greater access to the children, charging that his former wife had beaten the girls with a wooden spoon. However, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has not received any reports of child abuse by Nieves, officials said.

Nieves told the court that Folden’s oldest son--David M. Folden, 25--was a violent drug user who threatened her and the girls. On two occasions, the son violated a restraining order forbidding him to come near the younger children, according to Riverside County Sheriff’s Department records.

David Folden Sr. had applied for custody of his biological daughters--Kristl D. Folden, 7, and Jaqlene M. Folden, 5. While married to Nieves, he had adopted her three oldest children: David, Nikolet A. Folden, 12, and Rashel H. Folden, 11.

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Times staff writers Jeff Leeds and T. Christian Miller contributed to this story.


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