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Resident acquitted in trailer fires at Duroville

The 52-year-old grandmother could have spent 18 years in jail if convicted in last year's blazes.

January 26, 2008|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

A woman accused of setting a fire that destroyed six trailers, rendered eight families homeless and resulted in the evacuation of a notorious mobile home park in Thermal was acquitted on all charges Friday by a jury in Indio.

An emotional Guadalupe DeAnda, 52, sobbed uncontrollably as the verdict was read, said her lawyer, public defender David Prendergast. The case went to the jury Thursday.

DeAnda, a mother and grandmother who could have spent 18 years in prison if convicted, was charged with the fire that began in her trailer May 14 and rapidly spread through the densely packed Desert Mobile Home Park, known as Duroville, which sits on the Torres Martinez Indian reservation.

The fire prompted an investigation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that led officials to conclude the park was dangerous and needed to be closed.

Park managers alleged that DeAnda had fallen behind on her rent and had threatened to set fire to her trailer unless they let her strip it and sell its aluminum. But Prendergast, in defending her, put Duroville itself on trial, saying it was a "Third World California" in which managers traded sex for rent and arson was used as a means of eviction.

He said park employees, under pressure from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the place, were involved in causing the fire because the decrepit trailer could no longer be moved and they wanted it out.

"Right now, the emotion I have is anger," Prendergast said after the verdict.

"I'm angry at the lack of investigation, at the lack of expertise and the overcharging of the prosecutor. [DeAnda] was treated as a nonperson, a disposable person, because she was poor," he said.

A federal judge in Riverside is expected to decide Monday whether to shut down Duroville.

Judge Stephen Larson toured the 40-acre park last month and found serious health and safety issues. But he said he was reluctant to close it until there was someplace to put the nearly 6,000 mostly Latino farmworkers living there.

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