Families left shocked, hurt after Porterville library fire trial ends abruptly

'Our families have been devastated twice.'

Elisa Navarro Image
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
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A juvenile trial in Tulare County that was expected to last about two weeks wrapped up in just four days, catching families and attorneys off guard.

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A juvenile trial in Tulare County that was expected to last about two weeks wrapped up in just four days, catching families from both sides and attorneys off guard.

Two teens were accused of setting the Porterville Library fire in February of 2020, which led to the death of Porterville Firefighters Captain Raymond Figueroa and Patrick Jones.

Minors are not entitled to a jury trial, only to a Jurisdiction Hearing in front of a judge.

But four days after the hearing began, the proceedings took a sharp turn on Monday evening - Judge Loza felt he had heard enough to make his determination.

He determined that two counts of arson were committed by one of the teens, a 'delinquent offense.'

The petitions for counts of murder were dismissed, as was the arson charge for the other teen.

Attorney Richard Alvarez says the families of the teens left the courtroom in shock.

"I think they are confused, they don't understand, and I think these things are monumental. It takes a second to settle in," says Alvarez. "I disagreed with the court as to the arson, but in the end result, we are happy."

Juvenile court proceedings are very different from adult criminal court trials and judges are supposed to take into account the immaturity and susceptibility to peer pressure that comes with youth.

But Ramon Figueroa and John Jones say they felt their sons were disrespected during the trial.

"The judge kept saying 'in my opinion' and at one point cut off the DA and made the comment, 'your firefighters.' Which showed a lack of respect for our sons and our families. Ray and Patrick were not just our firefighters, they were the community of Porterville's firefighters," said Ramon Figueroa.

Added John Jones:

"Our families have been devastated twice."

While supervising district attorney John Sliney wishes the outcome would have been different, he says there is no opportunity to appeal the decision.

"I think his interpretation of the case law was incorrect, and so I disagree with both his factual determination and legal decisions," says Sliney.

The teen facing arson charges is scheduled for a disposition hearing on September 28th, where he will learn his punishment.

The DA says because the teen was 13 at the time of the incident, he could face anything from a custodial program to felony probation.