Prosecutor names 3 of 4 Payette students arrested on arson charges

The aftermath of the fire.
The aftermath of the fire.

The oldest of the four teen students who have been charged in connection with a fire that burned down Payette High School principal Mark Heleker’s house is only 16, the Payette County prosecutor said Friday.

The three that Anne-Marie Kelso identified are Paul Hendrix-Mills, 14; Donavan Ferreira, 16; and Travis Kenney, 14.

Mills and Ferreira have been charged with felony arson and felony conspiracy to commit arson. Kenney was charged with conspiracy to commit arson.

The fourth student, who is 15, hasn’t been arraigned. His case remains sealed.

Felony arson and conspiracy to commit arson both carry penalties of up to 25 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.

Idaho state law says that juveniles 14 or older who have committed certain crimes, including murder, rape, robbery and first-degree arson, are to be charged as adults.

In a news release Friday morning, Kelso said investigators are issuing subpoenas and obtaining search warrants for social media accounts. A fifth student is under investigation for alleged destruction of evidence.

The principal’s house burned down in the early morning hours of Feb. 22. Mark Heleker and his wife, Lorrie, a teacher, were sleeping, but their daughter — nursing student Katie Erwin, who worked late that night — woke them after seeing the fire while walking her dog. No one was injured, but the house was a total loss, as were three cars in the driveway.

Kelso said her office would not be releasing police reports or affidavits establishing probable cause for the charges at this time.

“Such reports are investigatory records and the release of such information will interfere with enforcement proceedings, as this case remains under investigation. In addition, the media has already reported as fact information that has not been confirmed to be accurate,” the release said.

Kelso expressed concern that if information in police reports is widely disseminated, the allegations could influence the local jury pool and deprive the suspects of their right to a fair trial.

Police Chief Mark Clark has said that investigators believe a motive for the crime was the suspension of two of the boys from school over drug-related allegations.

Kelso said Friday that she believes it’s too early in the investigation to know for sure what the motive was.

According to online court records, Ferreira has been charged with misdemeanor use of a controlled substance and felony conspiracy to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance.

Another of the students, Kenney, was charged in 2014 with two counts of felony burglary, two counts of misdemeanor unlawful entry and one count of misdemeanor malicious injury to property. He pleaded guilty to one count each of unlawful entry and malicious injury to property, and the rest of the charges were dismissed. He received 46 days of detention — 30 of which were to be served at home — and was put on one year’s probation, with further detention possible. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $342.50.

Mills, Ferreira and Kenney are set for a preliminary hearing at 9:30 a.m. March 14. At such a hearing, a judge determines whether a case should be passed on to district court and a full trial. They are often postponed due to other developments in a court case.

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