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Jail Claim Fails to Change Views on Fire Suspect


FULLERTON — Law enforcement officials remained convinced Sunday that Jose Soto Martinez set the devastating Laguna Beach fire, despite his family's insistence and statements from a prison official that Martinez may have been in a Mexican jail at the time.

Chief Orange County Assistant Dist. Atty. Maury Evans said his department is investigating the family's claim but, "We feel at this time, with the evidence that we have, that we have our arsonist.

"We will look into anything that people bring to our attention during an investigation and we will definitely look into the comments by Martinez's mother about her son being in jail in Mexico," he said.

The mother, Teresa Campos, has said her son's actual name is Jaime Saille and that he was incarcerated under that name at the El Cerezo Jail in Mazatlan--a claim that received some support from a jail official on Sunday.

El Cerezo Director Leticia Aguayo Gonzalez said in a telephone interview that the birth date on Saille's prison record matches Martinez's birth date. She said other similarities exist, including the name of Saille's mother and other personal information she did not detail.

However, she said until she sees a photograph of the suspect being held in Orange County, she can't positively identify Martinez and Saille as being the same person.

Aguayo said that Saille was jailed from May 15, 1993, to July 8, 1994. The Laguna Beach fire, which damaged or destroyed 441 homes and caused $528 million in damage, was started Oct. 27.

"We did not have anyone by the name of Jose Soto Martinez in here at that time," Aguayo said.

Orange County law enforcement officials stood by their previous statements that they arrested the right man.

Martinez, 26, confessed to setting the blaze after he was caught lighting small fires behind an apartment complex in Fullerton last month. He is scheduled to be arraigned on four felony arson counts in Orange County Municipal Court in Laguna Niguel today.

Investigators said Martinez told them he set the fire to conjure up a demon king named "Gotam."

"I'm very skeptical," Fullerton Police Chief Patrick McKinley said of the family's contention that Martinez was behind bars when the Laguna Beach fire erupted.

"I know what the evidence is, and the evidence is very, very convincing," McKinley said. "No one could have the information he has without intimate knowledge of that fire."

The suspect's mother said in an interview in her Fullerton home Sunday that her son told her during a jailhouse visit on Saturday that he did not light the fire and would recant his confession.

"I know he did not do it. That's what gives me mental peace right now," Campos said. "He invented everything."

Martinez's family, including his stepfather, Malaquias Campos, insists he was born Jaime Saille in Sinaloa, Mexico, on March 29, 1968, and that the name Martinez is an alias of his own making.

Teresa Campos said her son is mentally unstable and confessed to a crime he didn't commit in order to go to jail and get away from Mafia enemies he contends threatened to kill him during his reported two-year stay in the prison.

She said her son told her Saturday that just before he disappeared, he saw a man he thought was sent to kill him. Malaquias Campos said he believes his stepson fabricated those enemies--as well as an account to investigators that he set the fire to conjure the demon.

"He said, 'In here I feel safe,' " Teresa Campos said. "He needs help. He has a persecution phobia. . . . Mentally, he's not well."

Evans refused to comment Sunday on the status of the investigation and would not say if authorities planned to travel to Mazatlan to retrieve jail records or how they planned to prove or disprove the story.

"We're not going to talk about what we're doing and what we're not doing," he said. "We're not going to try this thing in the press."

No Orange County law enforcement officials visited the Mazatlan jail over the weekend, according to the El Cerezo jail director.

It was during a series of interviews with Fullerton arson investigator Bill Wallis that Martinez implicated himself in the Laguna blaze.

Said McKinley: "This will require a lot of investigation by the county to determine just who was in jail down there. Until that investigation is completed, no one will really know for sure."

Martinez's family dismissed as coincidence claims by investigators that Martinez provided incriminating information on the origin of the Laguna fire, such as where it started and that no accelerant was used. They said he may have seen television news accounts of the fire while in prison.

The family, though, is unable to prove that the man authorities call Jose Martinez served time in prison under the name Jaime Saille.

The lawyer who represented their son in Mexico when he was imprisoned for stealing a friend's jewelry called the family Sunday and promised to send records proving Martinez was in prison at the time he allegedly was setting the Laguna Beach fire.

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