‘Disgraceful’: Families of 2 slain Calif. FFs slam judge’s dismissal of murder charges
Judge Hugo J. Loza found one teen committed arson and found the other not responsible for crimes linked to the killing of Ramon Figueroa and Patrick Jones
The Fresno Bee
PORTERVILLE, Calif. — The trial of the two teens accused of setting fire to the Porterville library and killing two firefighters ended abruptly Monday with the dismissal of murder charges, according to a Tulare County prosecutor.
One of the boys, who are both 13, was found to be not responsible for any crimes while the accusations against the other of two counts of aggravated arson were found to be true by Judge Hugo J. Loza, according to Supervising Deputy District Attorney John Sliney.
The boy is set for a disposition hearing — the juvenile court’s version of sentencing — on Sept. 28, but Sliney said the way the court hearing shaped up on Monday the 13-year-old may not face any time in custody.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at this point,” he said.
The defendant faces anywhere from no time to up to when he turns 25. Attempts to reach his defense attorney Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Prosecutors say the boys were seen running away from the library on Feb. 18, 2020, after setting the fire that killed Ramon “Ray” Figueroa, 35, and Patrick Jones, 25.
Sliney said the judge’s ruling came as something of a surprise on Monday while the court was discussing a motion to dismiss the murder charges.
“It started as a motion to dismiss and went into his ruling,” he said. “We’re disappointed in the court’s decision. We think there was ample evidence.”
Family members of the slain firefighters responded with outrage on Tuesday as they held a news conference in downtown Visalia. Figueroa’s father, Ramon Figueroa, read a statement and stopped periodically to hold back tears.
“Yesterday was a disgraceful day having to witness the conduct of Judge Loza,” he said. “His demeanor showed that he was just interested in concluding the case quickly.”
He also expressed frustration that the judge would give his ruling without warning to prosecutors. Sliney corroborated the accusation of a lack of warning.
“Judge Loza’s decision sends the message that it’s OK if your actions kill someone, but don’t worry: The law will protect you from being held accountable,” Sliney said.
The family members said the slain firefighters entered the library to make sure no one else was inside and died doing their jobs.
The families of the two firefighters are suing several makers of life-saving equipment for negligence, alleging the defective devices caused their loved ones’ deaths during the fire that destroyed the library. They declined to discuss the civil case on Tuesday.
In his ruling, Loza said the firefighters were not killed by fire but by defective equipment, Figueroa said. The father argued the first responders wouldn’t have been using the equipment if the fire was never started.
John Jones said the judge’s ruling was disrespectful to his son, Patrick Jones. “All I hope is his house doesn’t catch on fire,” he said. “He’s insulted so many firefighters.”
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