2 Teens Take Responsibility in Fires

Hearings Offer Window Into Why Conspiracy Charges Fell Apart

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 25, 2009

Two Montgomery County teenagers appeared in court Friday and took responsibility for setting two small fires at Springbrook High School in a case that is falling short of original allegations that they were plotting to kill their principal with a nail bomb and set off a large explosion inside the school.

At both hearings for the youths, prosecutor Peter Feeney showed photographs of the fire damage: charred spots of about six inches on the ceilings of a bathroom and locker room. One of the teenagers, Yonata Getachew, 18, described by his attorney as a special needs student, faces state sentencing guidelines of probation to two years in jail.

The other, 17-year-old Anthony Torrence, who appeared at a disposition hearing in juvenile court, received 100 hours of community service and was permitted to continue living at home. He was also told that he no longer had to wear an electronic monitoring device.

"I wanted nothing bad to happen," Torrence, who was described by his attorney as a special education student, told Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Salant.

"Okay, I believe you," Salant said.

An hour earlier, in adult court, Getachew pleaded guilty to three counts related to the fires: arson, conspiracy to commit arson and reckless endangerment. The two set one of those fires by lighting papers and another by spraying lighter fluid. Neither fire lasted long. Getachew also pleaded guilty to another count of reckless endangerment, related to Torrence's allegation three months ago that they tampered with a gas line under a teacher's desk in a science classroom at Springbrook, which is in White Oak, north of Silver Spring.

That gas line allegation was a among a series of statements made by Torrence, according to Montgomery police, that was cause for great concern April 28, particularly given school shootings and violence that have rocked other parts of the country.

Torrence also told investigators that he and Getachew were "planning to construct a device to be thrown into the office of [Principal Michael] Durso. The device would explode shooting out nails at Mr. Durso," according to a statement signed by Detective Matthew Krest to support charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder against the teenagers.

The court hearings Friday opened a window into how the conspiracy charges fell apart.

Feeney told Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason that Torrence and investigators met in his office to try to clarify his original statement to police. During that meeting, Torrence denied any agreement to hurt the principal. Torrence said Getachew told him that he "might" want to use such a device but that it would be placed to go off only when Durso wasn't in the office, Feeney said.

That left prosecutors with two students who said there was no agreement and no objective proof that such an agreement existed.

Mason is scheduled to sentence Getachew in October.

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