COURT WATCH: Preliminary Hearing – Woman Charged with Felony Arson; Officer Testimony Contradicts Charge, Defense Claims

LOS ANGELES- CA, MARCH 2: Los Angeles Superior Court Stanley Mosk Courthouse March 2, 2004 in Los Angeles Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

By Estrella Torres 

LOS ANGELES, CA – During a preliminary hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court this week involving two counts of arson, the defense argued the accused had no involvement in physically committing arson and lacked sufficient knowledge the crime was going to take place. 

However, Judge Cathryn F. Bourgham denied the motion to dismiss the case and upheld both felony counts, moving the case to trial. 

The accused allegedly committed arson on an inhabited structure or property, specifically lighting a vehicle on fire at a Beverly Hills apartment complex. Two witnesses were promptly called to the stand, the first being the accused’s aunt who was the owner of the vehicle. 

The aunt confirmed she was at the residence and she was with her “grand-niece,” who “alerted me that people were saying, ‘there’s a fire, there’s a fire’” and they immediately evacuated. When the witness arrived downstairs she discovered her vehicle was on fire, noting, “I found my car ablaze … engulfed in flames and completely destroyed” with a “gas container nearby.”

Shortly after, the deputy district attorney displayed a picture of the inflamed vehicle on the screen in the courtroom. 

The cross-examination began with Deputy Public Defender Amber Gordon asking if “anything unusual happened” before, during, or after the fire, to which the witness said “no.” DPD Gordon continued, “Did you see the accused at the location of the crime?” and the witness answered, “I did not.”

The next witness called to the stand was Beverly Hills Police Officer Danielle Castro, who was assigned to investigate the reported incident of arson and arrested the accused at the crime scene. Officer Castro spoke to the accused on the day of the crime for approximately “an hour and 45 minutes.”  

Officer Castro said the accused allegedly admitted to being the “driver of the suspect vehicle,” and allegedly stated, “I am responsible for my role in the arson…driving the vehicle.” 

The accused allegedly told Officer Castro her ex-boyfriend “lit the fire,” using “gas and paper matches.” 

The arson was allegedly committed, said the officer, because, “something to the effect that they were angry that the accused’s aunt wouldn’t allow her to see her daughter.”

DPD Gordon asked, “The accused was upset about not seeing her daughter, correct?” and, “Her ex-boyfriend became likewise upset, correct?” to which Officer Castro affirmed both in the positive. 

“And the accused told you that she had no idea about what her ex-boyfriend was going to do, correct?” asked DPD Gordon. Officer Castro replied with, “Yes.” 

It was revealed the ex-boyfriend has a track record of a prior arson charge and arrest.

Officer Castro admitted there was a “domestic violence incident after the fire occurred.”

And, DPD Gordon asked, the accused “told you specifically ‘I did not start the fire’ and ‘I did not know my boyfriend was going to set the car on fire, is that correct?” Officer Castro responded. “She did say that, yes.” 

DPD Gordon then verified with Officer Castro: “In your report, you state that the accused initially told you she did not have anything to do with the arson but she knew who did it, is that correct?” Castro responded, “She did say that,” and that “she did not physically light the arson.”

Officer Castro also confirmed the accused was initially “angry” at her ex-boyfriend for lighting the fire. 

Again, Officer Castro emphasized how the accused stated: “I take responsibility for my role,” but “she indicated that she did not start the fire.”

Officer Castro said she saw “the accused walk across the street to her aunt’s vehicle and back to the suspect vehicle.” Other than crossing the street, Officer Castro did not see the accused do anything else. 

DPD Gordon argued that, although the accused was the driver of the vehicle, she was adamant that she did not get out of the car and start the fire, and asked charges be dismissed because of a lack of evidence.  

Despite the defense argument, Judge Bourgham decided to hold the accused on both felony charges, finding more than sufficient evidence that “she was involved, aiding and abetting” and that “she knew what was going to happen.”

About The Author

Estrella Torres is a first-generation Latina student in her 3rd year at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in Public Affairs. Estrella has a strong passion and dedication to addressing social justice issues and political activism both in her high school and university. Her positionality as a student coming from a Mexican immigrant household has fueled her to pursue career goals involved with social justice and immigration law. She hopes to help undocumented immigrants as a lawyer and promote policies that would better their lives and provide them with fair and equal opportunities. Because of this, she is planning to go on the pre-law track and foster her skills of reading, writing, analyzing, and critical thinking. She hoped to gain more experience in journalism as regards law, local government, and public policy that would further prepare her for her goals.

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