NEWS- Trial maroon: Public confused on the bomber news
"The word G-A-G never came out of my mouth," says Albemarle's Commonwealth Attorney Jim Camblos. "That was the media."
After the day-long March 28 trial of three teenagers charged with conspiring to blow up two county schools, Camblos faced a media pack gathered outside the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, but refused to give even a hint about whether verdicts had been reached or even whether the trial was over.
"We can't talk about it," he said. "I can't tell you what happened." And he warned reporters, "If anyone talks about it, they're in violation of a court order... and we'll come after you to ask who talked about it."
The lack of information about the highly publicized case's outcome only heightened community interest, and three days later, Camblos loosened up about the world of juvenile cases.
"It was a closed hearing, it was a court order," he says, because two of the accused would-be bombers are 13, and state law protects the privacy of juveniles under 14.
"We have closed hearings all the time," says Camblos. "Something like this is very rare that the media is interested" and someone that young is charged with a "heinous" crime.
Although the 15-year-old requested a separate trial, he was tried with the two 13-year-olds from Jouett Middle School. "The reason for trying the three together is it took three days," explains Camblos. "We wanted to try it once for everyone's convenience."
Camblos has filed a motion seeking direction from the court about what he can say about the 13-year-olds. The motion will be heard April 5– the same day the 16-year-old Western Albemarle student who previously pleaded guilty to two felony charges will be sentenced, and after the Hook's press time. "The public is very concerned about this case," Camblos says to explain his motion.
"We're hopeful the judge will allow us to give information about what happened to the 13-year-olds for all the parents who what to know," he adds. "I certainly would want to know if I was a parent."
Normally, the 15-year-old Albemarle High student's hearing would not be closed, but Camblos says, "When I came out Tuesday, I felt I couldn't say anything."
Two days later, March 30, a deputy clerk at Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court told the Hook that the 15-year-old had been convicted on two felony counts: conspiracy to blow up a school house with an explosive device and conspiracy to commit murder.
According to Camblos, statutory provisions require the media to file paperwork to find out the disposition of the 15-year-old's case. The Daily Progress reported filing a written request, and after 2pm March 30, the clerks "already had direction to give information," says Camblos.
Were the parents of the 15-year-old prohibited from discussing their son's conviction? "No, they're not," replies Camblos.
That wasn't clear to the parents. "Because it was a closed trial, I can't say anything about the proceeding," says the father of the 15-year-old, declining to say whether his son was convicted before that information was made public. "I find it very frustrating. I find it scary in the implication of threats. I find it scary because I'm not a lawyer."
His son was arrested February 1 and faces sentencing on April 12. The boy's absence continues to weigh on the family. "I do a lot of pacing," says the father. "I've lost a lot of weight. I don't sleep." He continues to hope his son will be home before too much longer.
The father, who has always maintained that his son would never hurt anyone, said before the trial, "I want people to know that not all four of these boys are equally involved. There was one boy who posted some very misguided things on the Internet."
Following the March 28 hearing, the father of the 15-year-old says, "Knowing everything I know, I remain very proud of my son."
Authorities say the threats were made on an Internet chat room, but continue to remain tightlipped on what evidence prompted them to file charges and make the four arrests, other than to note at a February 3 press conference the confiscation of three computers, two guns, and other materials. The lack of information has led to speculation in the community about whether the threat was serious– or whether police over-reacted.
"We don't charge unless we think it's serious," reiterates Camblos.
One of the parents of the accused boys says he was there when police took the two guns from his locked gun safe, along with firecrackers, a smoke bomb, and a box of kitchen matches the parent says belonged to him.
"My main concern, my real concern, my only concern is how this– along with a series of unfortunate events– is going to affect the sentencing," says the 15-year-old's father.
He worries about the seriousness of the charges and the court's obligation to impose a sentence based on the public's perception of the charges against a kid who's never been in trouble before.
Initially, he says, his son was facing less serious charges that were dropped. An hour later, the "much more serious, horrible" felony charges were filed. "They issue a press release and then throw a blanket over it," he says. "Now we have a sentencing based on the public's perception of the seriousness."
Reaction to the seriousness of the alleged threat is mixed. At Albemarle High, "Shockingly, that's completely died down," says 11th grader Danielle Unger, the editor of the school paper. "No one's talking about it any more."
When the arrests were announced, Unger found a "wide spectrum" of reactions, from kids laughing to others in the bathroom crying.
The arrests did prompt Unger to wonder whether the school would have been ready for a real crisis and how it would have been handled.
"I didn't know what to do," she says, suggesting, "Make sure every kid reviews the crisis plan."
Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos is seeking to release information about whether two 13-year-olds were convicted of plotting to blow up two county high schools.
FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO