A standing-room only crowd of about 40 people filled the tiny courtroom at the Payette County Courthouse Monday for a hearing with all four students accused of burning down the Payette High School principal’s home.
The most recently charged is Marshall Turvey, 15, charged with felony conspiracy in the Feb. 22 fire at Mark Heleker’s house.
Also accused are Paul Hendrix-Mills, 14; Donavan Ferreira, 16; and Travis Kenney, 14. All are charged with conspiracy to commit arson, and Ferreira and Hendrix-Mills are charged with felony arson. Hendrix-Mills is a middle school student, the others are in high school, Heleker said.
The four boys, their hands cuffed behind their backs, sat quietly together in a row near the front of the courtroom.
No one was injured in the Heleker house fire, but the principal and his wife had to be roused from sleep and ushered out to safety by their adult daughter. The fire destroyed the house and three vehicles.
Payette is a community of 7,500 people located about an hour northwest of Boise.
The four teens have been held at the Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center in Caldwell. They’re being charged as adults: Idaho state law calls for that when juveniles age 14 or older have committed certain crimes, including murder, rape, robbery and first-degree arson.
On Monday, Judge Lee allowed Kenney to be held on house arrest with electronic monitoring until his arraignment in district court. He may go to school and participate in related activities, with close adult supervision. He was barred from having any contact with the principal or his family.
Hendrix-Mills and Turvey waived their right to have a preliminary hearing, and they will be arraigned in district court April 1. The attorneys for Ferreira and Kenney said they needed more time, so Judge Brian Lee rescheduled their preliminary hearings for 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. March 30. Such hearings determine if there is enough evidence for a case to proceed to district court and a full trial.
Felony arson and conspiracy to commit arson both carry penalties of up to 25 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.
Payette Police Chief Mark Clark has previously said investigators believe the fire was set in retaliation for the suspension of two students following an investigation into drugs at the high school. Heleker said Monday that only one student was suspended (and expelled); the other student transfered to another school.
Online court records show previous criminal charges for three of the defendants. Ferreira has been charged with misdemeanor use of a controlled substance and felony conspiracy to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 30.
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.
Turvey 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 of unlawful entry, and the other charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail; 44 were suspended, and he was ordered to 30 days of home confinement. In the fall of 2015, Turvey was charged with felony burglary and misdemeanor counts of possession of burglary tools, prowling and violating curfew. He has a pre-trial hearing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
REBUILDING AFTER FIRE
Principal Heleker attended the Monday court hearings. Afterward, he told the Statesman that his family is still living in a hotel but they have found a rental house — one that’s on the same street as the home they lost.
The Helekers plan to demolish and rebuild their house, a process that’s expected to take about six months to complete.
A GoFundMe account set up by a student to help raise money for the family had a goal of $2,000 but more than $6,600 has been raised through 117 donations. Heleker said they plan to use the money to buy clothes and other necessities lost in the fire. They haven’t yet had a chance to replace the cars they lost.
The fire has impacted the whole community.
School district officials have brought in a motivational speaker Craig Conrad to talk to students and the community. Student assemblies were organized for Monday and Tuesday. Parents and others are invited to the “Unstoppable Community Rally” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Payette High School Auditorium.
“While every tragedy affects individuals differently, I feel strongly that strong school/community ties are helpful,” Payette School District Superintendent Pauline King said. She said the healing process is complex and will take some time.