ORANGE — The three teen-agers charged with killing 14-year-old Carl Dan Claes over a stereo system appeared in Juvenile Court, chained together, for the first time Thursday, and sheriff's investigators searched their Tustin home later in the day for the dead boy's belongings.
Presiding Judge Frank F. Fasel postponed a detention hearing for 16-year-old Thomas (Tommy) Miller, his 15-year-old brother and a 17-year-old friend until Tuesday, and ordered them held until then as a flight risk and a danger to others.
Prosecutors have filed murder charges against Tommy Miller, who grew up in a household rife with domestic troubles and had developed a recent fascination with guns, according to friends and classmates. Prosecutors reiterated Thursday that they will seek to have him tried as an adult.
Miller's 15-year-old brother and a 17-year-old friend who had been living at the Miller house were charged with being accessories to murder after the fact. The 17-year-old also was charged with receiving a stolen .22-caliber pistol, believed to be the murder weapon, from Miller.
The youths sat chained together at the wrists during the brief court proceeding, as their parents looked on.
"It's a very disheartening thing for all people involved," the Millers' father, 51-year-old Thomas Donald Miller, said before the proceeding.
The brothers' mother, formerly Dawn Marie Miller, said only: "My son is innocent," and refused to comment further.
The pair, who were were married and divorced twice amid her allegations that he beat her repeatedly and put their children at risk, left the courthouse holding hands, the mother's face wet with tears.
"Get out of my face!" Thomas Miller yelled as news cameras surrounded them.
Claes' body was found May 17 in a Lemon Heights ditch about three miles from his home in Tustin, where he lived with his grandfather. He had been shot in the head at close range.
The case has shocked law enforcement officials because of its senseless nature and absence of gang or drug involvement.
Investigators said they believe the boy was slain in a dispute over a $2,500 disc jockey console he had loaned to the Millers. Investigators confiscated the 6-foot-long system, used to play and record music at dance parties, on May 18 at another house. Last Monday, they confiscated the gun believed used in the slaying at yet another Tustin home where a youth was questioned but not arrested. The 17-year-old was arrested there at that time.
Thursday afternoon, investigators served yet another search warrant, combing the Miller residence in the 13000 block of Woodland Drive for four hours. Sheriff's Lt. Tom Garner said they were hunting specifically for items that once belonged to Claes.
While the Miller brothers' father watched television with their grandmother, several rubber-gloved investigators went from room to room, one carrying a video camera.
Outside, several more investigators meticulously inspected a gray-blue van parked in the driveway, concentrating on the doors and back seat as well as a red stereo speaker in the back.
Neighbors returning home from work gathered on their lawns and watched.
As investigators concluded their search and carried several items away from the house, one neighbor strode into the house with a bouquet of home-grown flowers.
She said she had brought them for the grandmother, whom deputies would not let her see.
As the woman left, marching past the investigators, she mumbled that her friend did not seem to be bearing up well under the strain, then covered her face and wept.
Thomas Miller came to his son's defense Thursday.
He said Tommy did have the stereo system belonging to Claes at his house for a time and he also had Claes' pager, but only because "some bullies or gang members were chasing the kid."
The father said Tommy insists that someone else, whom the son refuses to name, pulled the trigger.
"Somebody drove the car. Tommy's just holding back his name," Thomas Miller said.
His younger son "doesn't even know what's going on," Miller added. "He just got caught up in the middle of it."
Sheriff's Lt. Dan Martini said the investigation is ongoing and could involve more suspects.
"There are still other people who we want to talk to," Martini said. "You're never sure that you've got all the players until the last moment, but there's nobody I can list who we're focusing on."
Former classmates of Tommy Miller said he had changed in recent years from a kid who loved Little League to a tough talker who was expelled from school repeatedly, often got in fights and began showing off a gun last year.
But Miller said his son never had a gun and had been staying at home the past couple of months in search of a calmer existence. "He says there's nothing but trouble out in the street," Thomas Miller said. "He just wants to stay away from them."
The mother of the 17-year-old, who hired Santa Ana criminal defense attorney James Riddet on behalf of her son, said he unwittingly got caught in the middle of a tough group. He only lived with the Millers because it was close to his job, and he paid rent there, she said.
"He just happened to be living there," she said. "He has his own set of friends."
Riddet said he will ask at Tuesday's hearing that his client be released.
"I think he should be with his mom," he said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Carolyn Kirkwood said she will oppose that.
Claes lived alone with his grandfather, his legal guardian. His grandmother died in March and his mother works for the U.S. Forest Service in the Northern California town of Sonora.