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SANTEE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Youth Could Face Lengthy Sentence

Courts: He wouldn't be executed, but charges could mean years in prison. Officials say he would have been tried as an adult even without Prop. 21.

March 07, 2001|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fifteen-year-old Charles Andrew Williams won't face the death penalty or even a life sentence without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of killing two students and wounding 13 people in the Santee shooting rampage Monday.

But San Diego prosecutors said charges could be stacked up to ensure a lengthy prison sentence if he is found guilty.

According to California law, Williams will be tried as an adult despite his age. Proposition 21, which called for prosecutors rather than judges to make such determinations in most cases, mandated adult court filings for certain types of violent crime.

This act--multiple murder--constitutes such a case, prosecutors said. And even if Proposition 21 did not exist, experienced prosecutors said, it is the type of case that would have been sent to adult court anyway after a fitness hearing by a Juvenile Court judge.

"Double murder, lying in wait, 13 wounded . . . in a cold, calculated fashion. . . . This case would go directly to Superior Court," with or without Proposition 21, said Bill Collins, a San Diego County deputy district attorney who spent five years in the juvenile division.

Williams is scheduled to be arraigned today on multiple charges, most likely two counts of murder and 13 possible additional counts of attempted murder, in addition to weapons charges.

San Diego County Dist. Atty. Paul Pfingst said the teenager typically would face at least 25 years in prison for each of the two murder counts. That sentence could be enhanced by 10 to 20 years for each additional count of attempted murder, he said. Under the maximum-sentence scenario, he said, the youth could face a sentence totaling "hundreds of years."

When juveniles are charged as adults, the same trial procedures apply. A youth is given a preliminary hearing, the chance to seek bail and a trial by jury, attorneys said.

"As far as our job and the legal procedures we go through [are concerned], they're exactly the same," said Tom Higgins, chief of the Los Angeles County district attorney's juvenile division. "They have all the rights that an adult offender gets, and they get the same protections."

If Williams, who is being held in a San Diego County juvenile hall, is found guilty while he is still 15, he will probably be sent to a California Youth Authority facility until he is at least 16. At that point, he would be turned over to the state Department of Corrections, which would place him in a state prison.

In 1998, California put 163 juveniles in state prison, compared with 161,466 adults, according to a recent U.S. Justice Department report. Overall, juveniles make up a small percentage of the nation's prison population. In 1998, it was less than 1%, the report found.

In Los Angeles County, about 40 youths ages 15 to 17 occupy a special unit of the Men's Central Jail, mostly while they await trials in adult court.

Juvenile facilities tend to offer more rehabilitative programs for offenders. In addition, youths whose cases are handled in Juvenile Court are generally freed by age 25.

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Times staff writer Greg Krikorian contributed to this story.

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