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No-Contest Plea Expected in Fire

May 23, 2000|TRACY WILSON

Ojai teenager Jonathan Barrett will plead no contest Wednesday to felony charges in a Dec. 21 fire that burned more than 4,000 acres and destroyed one home in Ojai, Barrett's attorney said Monday.

"From the very beginning, my client has admitted he has done this," said lawyer James Farley. "Why should we go to trial?"

Barrett, 18, told authorities that he and co-defendant Brett Schwermer, also 18, started the blaze while blowing up fireworks inside a neighbor's mailbox. Both men were subsequently indicted by the grand jury on felony charges of unlawfully causing a fire that burned forest land and destroyed a home.

Barrett, a senior at Nordhoff High School, is the son of James Barrett, a Ventura County Sheriff's Department captain who serves as Ojai's police chief.

So far, Barrett and Schwermer have both pleaded not guilty to the charges, which could send them to jail or state prison. But Farley said Barrett will change his plea on Wednesday.

Farley said he doubts a judge would send his client, who has no criminal record, to prison. He will argue in favor of probation and community service and plans to ask a judge to order Barrett to help rebuild the home that was destroyed.

"He's a good kid, and I don't see how jail is going to do a darn thing for him," Farley said, adding that he has already talked to homeowner Tom Forgea, a retired probation officer, about the community service proposal. "He said he would be open to that."

Schwermer's attorney could not be reached for comment. Both men are due back in Ventura County Superior Court on Wednesday morning.

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