Suspects in 2 High School Shootings Appear in Court at Separate Hearings


Their heads bowed, two teenagers accused of shooting rampages at local high schools appeared at separate hearings Monday, where one pleaded not guilty and attorneys for the other vowed to fight a law requiring that he be tried as an adult.

Jason Hoffman, 18, holding a folded white towel over his face and jaw, where he was shot by an El Cajon police officer, pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder and five counts of assault with a deadly weapon in a shooting rampage last week at Granite Hills High School that left five wounded.

Earlier, attorneys for Charles Andrew Williams, 15, were granted a delay in his arraignment so they can file a constitutional challenge to Proposition 21, the ballot measure adopted last year that makes it easier for prosecutors to try teenage murder suspects as adults.

Williams is charged with killing two students and wounding 13 people March 5 at Santana High School in nearby Santee.

Although the cases are not related, both hearings took place in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Herbert Exarhos.

Meanwhile, students at Granite Hills returned to class for the first time since Thursday's 90-second shooting outburst, which spread panic throughout an already traumatized community. Hundreds of family members escorted students to school, where 150 counselors were on duty to discuss the trauma of last week.

Attendance was 93%, and Granger Ward, superintendent of the Grossmont Union High School District, described the mood on campus as one of resilience.

Some students wore T-shirts with a picture of El Cajon Police Agent Richard Agundez, who shot and wounded Hoffman seconds after Hoffman allegedly fired at Vice Principal Dan Barnes and then began to fire indiscriminately. The bullets fired by Agundez shattered Hoffman's jaw.

Hoffman is being held without bail in County Jail; Williams is being held at Juvenile Hall.

At Williams' court session, five Santana High students wore T-shirts memorializing Randy Gordon, 17, and Bryan Zuckor, 14, who were killed in the six-minute incident in which Williams allegedly fired more than 30 rounds.

Members of Zuckor's family wore homemade badges with his picture.

Randy Mize, a deputy public defender, has said that Williams' youth and lack of criminal history make Juvenile Court the correct place to try him.

"The ultimate goal for everybody is justice," Mize said. "Salvaging a life, rehabilitation, is very important. I think California has been fairly effective with that in the juvenile justice system."

Mize promised to file a legal challenge to Proposition 21 by Friday. Exarhos said he will rule on the issue by April 27.

Zuckor's aunt, Carol Lynn Macagba Briens, told reporters that she attended the session to show the family's support for trying Williams as an adult.

"The killer in this double murder, whether young or old, is not the victim," she said. "The true victims are Bryan and Randy and the 13 schoolmates who were wounded."

Trying Williams as a juvenile, she said, could allow him to go free at the age of 25 and mean other "angry, violent young people will not think twice about killing."

But Williams had supporters. His parents and grandparents attended. So did two sports coaches from Maryland where Williams once lived. They said he was a cheerful, popular youth when they knew him, before he moved to California.

Prosecutors did not object to delaying the arraignment to allow for the challenge to Proposition 21.

"We're operating under the assumption that the law will be ruled constitutional," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin K. Anton.

Under the law before Proposition 21, a teenager accused of murder could be tried as an adult only after a fitness hearing in which a judge would consider the severity of the circumstances and maturity of the defendant.

Saying that his client has indicated "an immense amount of remorse," Mize indicated that a major issue during a trial will be the state of Williams' mental health.

If convicted as an adult, Williams could receive a sentence of more than 400 years, prosecutors said.

Hoffman, if convicted on all counts, could receive a sentence of life plus 51 years and be eligible for parole in 44 years, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Daniel Lamborn.

Hoffman's mother, Denise Marquez, was in court and later released a statement through her son's attorney, Deputy Public Defender William Trainor, saying: "[My] heart goes out to the family, the community and to the relatives and friends of those people injured."

Trainor told reporters: "We need to get a lot of help for this young man to find out for the community what happened here."

Law enforcement officials said Hoffman, who was convicted in Juvenile Court of assaulting a student, was angry at being rejected the day before by the Navy.

At 6 feet, 1 inch, and 210 pounds, he was deemed too hefty to be a recruit, and his assault conviction could have made it impossible for him to enlist.

Hoffman allegedly blamed the vice principal for his rejection. Exarhos set a preliminary hearing for May 10.

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