Members of a California community are enraged at the fact that two firefighters died battling an intentionally-set blaze at their town library, and the two teenagers charged with murder in their deaths are facing not more than 10 years in a juvenile facility.
As ABC News reports, the city library in Porterville, a San Joaquin Valley community of about 60,000, burned down on February 18. At about 4:14 that afternoon, firefighters responded to calls of smoke pouring from the nearly-70-year-old building, which didn’t have a sprinkler system. Two firefighters from the Engine 71 crew, Raymond Figueroa and Patrick Jones, rushed into the burning building to search for victims or survivors.
Both men died in the blaze.
Porterville Police Chief Eric Kroutil said that a later investigation revealed that two young boys were seen running from the building around the time the fire started. Authorities later tracked down and arrested the two teens, and charged them with arson and murder.
The teens are both 13-years-old. California law prevents children of that age from being tried as adults for criminal offenses, even crimes as serious as arson or murder. Similarly, it prevents them from being held in confinement past the age of 25.
What’s more, a new law, which went into effect on January 1, limits the criminal exposure of felons whose actions result in death but who aren’t the actual murderers or who didn’t intend to kill.
All of this means that it’s likely that even if the boys are convicted of all of the charges against them, the most they’ll spend in prison is around 10 years.
“In my opinion, if this were 17-year-olds then they would be tried as adults in criminal court and facing extremely lengthy prison terms. That’s not going to happen in this case. By law, it cannot,” Kroutil said.
#BREAKING: Tulare County Fire Officials on scene of the #Porterville Library fire confirmed one Porterville city firefighter died in the fire, and another is unaccounted for. A heartbreaking night for the city of Porterville. @CBS47 @KSEE24 pic.twitter.com/O1JRMXNxZj
— Kirsten Mitchell (@Kirsten_TV) February 19, 2020
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward took the unusual step of issuing a statement addressing his frustration with the limitations placed on him in prosecuting this case.
“I know it may be frustrating, but 13-year-olds cannot be tried as adults in California, even for crimes such as murder. I’m certain this information may be met with outrage,” he said.
Indeed, the townspeople are outraged. On social media and in the comments section of the town’s newspaper, residents are calling for the boys to be tried for murder, and are calling the law that limits the amount of prison time they’ll serve unjust.
Porterville Mayor Martha Flores said in a statement that the situation has been difficult for her community, but that she’s confident the members of the resilient community will support each other.