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Prosecutors Urge Jury to Convict Colby Fire Suspects

Jury deliberations began Thursday afternoon.

File photo of the Colby Fire. Photo credit: Dirk Hopstein
File photo of the Colby Fire. Photo credit: Dirk Hopstein
A prosecutor urged a federal jury to convict two men who set an illegal campfire in the Glendora hills and then fled when it roared out of control, but defense attorneys said their clients should not be held accountable for what became the 1,900-acre Colby Fire.
  
Clifford Henry Jr., 22, of Glendora and transient Steven Robert Aguirre, 21, are charged with one felony and three misdemeanor counts of building an illegal campfire on federal land, setting fire to timber, trees and brush, and failing to control the blaze. If convicted of all counts, they each face up to 6 1/2 years in federal prison.
  
"They made poor decisions -- as young men will,'' said Dominic Cantalupo, Aguirre's lawyer, in his closing argument.
  
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph O. Johns, though, asked the jury to disregard whatever sympathetic feelings they might have for the men, who sat nervously throughout the two-day trial.
  
"This isn't the `Jerry Springer Show,' folks,'' the prosecutor said. "This is a court of law.''
  
Late Thursday, the jury began its deliberations, completing about an hour before concluding for the night. Discussions are expected to resume Friday morning.
  
During the trial, Henry Jr. and Aguirre both took the stand and admitted they and a third man hiked up a forest trail high above Glendora the night of Jan. 15, built a fire ring out of rocks, and lit two illegal campfires. The first fire went out by itself before midnight, but around 4 a.m. on Jan. 16, the cold weather awakened them, they told the jury.
  
Henry Jr. and Aguirre testified they decided to build a second campfire to keep warm.
  
The random spot was "just an expanse of tinder, chaparral and dry brush'' -- perfect conditions for a wildfire, Johns said.
  
After the third suspect -- 23-year-old transient Jonathan Jarrell --awoke and added notebook paper to the fire, ``a gust of wind blew embers ... into the surrounding tender, dry grass of the Angeles National Forest,'' Johns said.
  
The men managed to stomp out one fiery patch, Johns said, but another ignited.
  
At that point, Aguirre, Henry Jr. and Jarrell "panicked and fled,'' leaving the wildfire "to the untender mercies of the Santa Ana winds,'' Johns said.
  
Jarrell will be tried on the same charges later this month. His case was separated based on statements he made to investigators that possibly implicated his co-defendants.
  
The blaze in the Angeles National Forest consumed 1,952 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged 17 others while injuring six people, including five firefighters, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It also destroyed 10 outbuildings and damaged another.
--City News Service

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