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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Man Receives 3-Year Term for Making Bombs

Courts: The former Hueneme High student says he was 'just playing around' and apologizes for causing panic on campus.

February 15, 2001|TRACY WILSON and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

VENTURA — A former Hueneme High School student who was arrested within days of the Columbine High School massacre for manufacturing bombs in his bedroom was sentenced Wednesday to three years in state prison.

But after being jailed for nearly two years on felony charges, Jose Carlos Herrera, 20, could be released from custody in as little as three months.

Herrera was arrested in April 1999 after a classmate told police he had threatened to blow up the Oxnard campus using homemade bombs.

Although Herrera was a nearly straight-A student with no criminal record, Oxnard police took the threat seriously and evacuated more than 200 people from their homes in his neighborhood.

Police searched the house, and a bomb squad removed 42 devices from the teen's bedroom.

Four turned out to be live explosives.

Herrera later admitted making bombs and pleaded guilty last fall to two felony counts, including possession of explosives with intent to destroy property or injure people.

On Wednesday, Herrera stood before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce Clark and explained that he was "just playing around" because he hoped to someday become a military demolition expert.

"I wanted to be a soldier--not a monster," Herrera said. "I am not a menace to society."

Herrera apologized for causing panic at his school.

He told Clark he regretted making the explosive devices and has learned from his mistakes.

"My life will never be the same because of this mess," he said.

A Hueneme High School teacher and former classmate also spoke at the sentencing hearing, telling the judge they do not perceive Herrera as a threat.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Roger Inman argued that whether or not Herrera intended to harm anyone, his bomb-making activities put the community at risk.

Inman asked Clark to impose a four-year prison term and "send a message that this type of activity is not acceptable."

But Clark noted that Herrera has no prior criminal record and was a good student.

For those reasons, he sentenced Herrera to only three years.

The decision drew applause from Herrera's family seated in the courtroom.

Unable to post $500,000 bail, Herrera has spent nearly two years in the Ventura County Jail.

With credits for good behavior, he could be released from custody in as little as three months, his lawyer said after the hearing.

"I'm happy, I think it was fair," defense attorney Victor Salas said.

Salas said he postponed a trial date for more than a year to allow his client to serve time in jail rather than prison, fearful Herrera could be hurt or negatively influenced by other inmates.

"From the beginning, he wanted to plead [guilty], but he didn't want to spend time in prison," Salas said.

The lawyer said he sought to delay a trial because prosecutors had more than 100 videotapes that Herrera made of himself blowing up toys and other objects.

Police also discovered a diary that referred to bombing the campus and putting Hueneme High on the map.

"I have a plan to do a rampage," the diary read. "An explosion at school would sound cool on Fox news."

The diary and tapes were musings of an immature teenager who watched too many action movies and fantasized about becoming a demolition expert, Salas said.

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