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Appeals court says man who torched son in 1983 is 3-striker

January 05, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A man who already served prison time for setting his son on fire in 1983 is eligible for the state's three-strikes sentence, which could keep him behind bars for life for a firearms conviction, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, based in San Francisco, means Charley Charles will receive a term of 25 years to life for a 2005 conviction on charges of being a felon in possession of a handgun and ammunition.

Charles, 66, was known as Charles Rothenberg when he torched his then-6-year-old son, David. He served seven years for his conviction on felony counts of attempted murder and arson. His light sentence drew outrage and helped pave the way for stricter sentencing guidelines.

The boy survived third-degree burns over 90% of him.

At Charles' 2005 sentencing hearing for being a felon in possession of a firearm, San Francisco County prosecutors urged a life term under the state's three-strikes law. The sentencing judge, Cynthia Lee, gave him seven years after ruling that the attempted murder and arson should count as one strike, not two -- a decision the appeals court overturned Thursday.

No new sentencing date has been set.

In 1983, Charles took his son to a Buena Park motel and gave him a sleeping pill. He doused the room with kerosene and lighted it before leaving. At the time, he said he was distraught about losing the boy to his estranged wife in a custody battle.

Charles, who was living in San Francisco when he was arrested on the weapons violation, testified that he needed the handgun to protect himself from vigilantes bent on retaliation for the crime against his son.

Charges of financial fraud and threatening a prosecutor are pending against Charles.

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