Charge dropped in Sacred Heart fire

No case: With confession inadmissible, prosecutors can't tie 15-year-old to blaze

David R. Kazak

AURORA - Kane County prosecutors dropped their case Thursday against a 15-year-old Aurora boy accused of starting the blaze that destroyed Sacred Heart Church last December.

Sixteenth Circuit Court Judge Barry Puklin dismissed the case after prosecutors told him they would not appeal his earlier decision to suppress the boy's confession.

At the time, Puklin heatedly told prosecutors he wasn't convinced the 15-year-old-who psychologists said the mental capability of a 7-or-8-year-old- understood what was going on when he confessed.

According to police, the boy said he was the one who ignited paneling in the church's basement, causing the blaze. But, in subsequent interviews, the boy changed his story several times.

Assistant State's Attorney James Wals h said prosecutors had no choice but to drop the case, even though they believe the boy was "involved in some manner."

"Without confession, there's nothing to directly link the boy with the fire," Walsh said.

After Thursday's hearing, Aurora Fire Department spokesman Martin Kunkel said he was "very disappointed."

"But we understand that there really were no options available," he said.

Kunkel added that the department's intention was never to see the boy punished as a criminal, but to "try to get him some help."

More legal matters

Sacred Heart parishioner Jessie Rodriguez- when told no one would be held responsible for the blaze that destroyed his church-said he was just glad no one was hurt in the fire.

"We don't hold any grudges against the boy," he said. "He's young. And we were all young once, and we all made mistakes.

"They were probably smaller mistakes, but they were still mistakes," he added."It's time to just give the matter up to the Lord."

Owen Phelps, spokesman for the Rockford Dioces-which oversees the Aurora church- said disappointment was not an appropriate response for the diocese to hold.

"Our position from the beginning has been to trust in and defer to the proper authorities," Phelps said. "That's really it for us. Nothing is going to bring back the church."

"If this boy did, in fact commit arson, our hope has always been that he gets treatment," he said. "But the loss and pain are always going to be there. That's not going to go away, no matter if someone is found responsible or not."

The boy's attorney, David Camic, said he was pleased with the outcome, but his work representing the boy is not done.

At the time of the Sacred Heart blaze, the boy was on court supervision stemming from his allegedly having started another fire. Prosecutors will ask Puklin to re-sentence the boy on the earlier charge.

Until the May 14 hearing-at which Puklin will hear arguments for re-sentencing- the boy is to remain in custody at the county's juvenile detention.

Walsh said his office is seeking out a facility that will accept the boy into a program that helps fire-starters. He hopes placement in such a facility will be a part of the new sentence.

The state will base its re-sentencing request on the boy's failure to seek counseling, which Puklin ordered as a condition of the supervision. Because the boy didn't follow that order, prosecutors will argue the suspension should be revoked.

Camic said he couldn't comment on the state's new tactic until he's had time to review the specific allegations.

"But we are going to aggressively look out for (the boy's) interests," said.