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FULLERTON : Hearing Is Scheduled for Arson Suspect

October 28, 1994|GREG HERNANDEZ

One-time Laguna Beach arson suspect Jose Soto Martinez, who still faces charges that he started three small fires in Fullerton, was in court again Thursday, where a judge set his pretrial hearing for Dec. 1.

Earlier this month, the district attorney's office withdrew a charge that Martinez, 26, set last year's Laguna Beach firestorm. Days after filing that charge, prosecutors learned that Martinez's confession was bogus and that he had been in a Mexican jail when the fire began.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Fell said Thursday that, although the Fullerton fires are small compared to the Laguna Beach blaze, the case remains a priority to his office.

"We still feel this is an important case and that's evidenced by the fact that he is being held without bail," Fell said. "Fire has a mind of its own. You can start a small fire and someone might stomp it out. But that same fire can wipe out hundreds of people."

Martinez's lawyer, Frank Ospino, called his client "unreliable" and said there is no proof that he started any of the fires in Fullerton.

"The statements he's made about these fires are as unreliable as the ones concerning the Laguna Beach fire," Ospino said. "And that, we feel, is the crux of this case."

Ospino said the total damage caused by the fires amounted to less than $1,000, and because of that, his client should be entitled to go free on bail.

"One of the reasons we haven't tried to get bail set is the unfortunate financial situation of his family," Ospino said. "They wouldn't be able to post it."

Martinez is being held at the Orange County Jail.

Martinez's true name is Jaime Saille Higuera. If convicted of the three arson charges against him, he would face a maximum prison term of 19 years, 8 months, Fell said.

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