Imperial Valley Press

Two charges dropped in threats case

- BY JULIO MORALES Staff Writer

EL CENTRO — A county Superior Court judge on Wednesday granted a defense motion to drop two of four felony counts brought against Imperial resident Karl Manaig for allegedly threatenin­g to shoot and kill some of his Imperial High classmates.

During her ruling, county Superior Court Judge Diane Altamirano indicated there was no legal basis to hold Manaig accountabl­e for allegedly threatenin­g to shoot two classrooms of students when no evidence existed of any specific student from those classrooms having sustained fear.

Altamirano’s ruling did let stand two counts of threatenin­g to commit a crime resulting in death in connection to threats Manaig allegedly made that had frightened two specific classmates.

On Wednesday, Altamirano also acknowledg­ed her agreement with a March 16 decision by county Superior Court Judge Donal Donnelly to drop the same two felony charges associated with making threats against unspecifie­d students in two separate classrooms.

During that March 16 preliminar­y examinatio­n, Donnelly had stated that evidence of a specific victim having sustained fear must be present in order to bring forth a criminal threats charge and that such a charge could not be brought on behalf of an “amorphous group of people.”

Despite Donnelly’s ruling, Manaig was again arraigned on the two counts related to the alleged threats against the two classrooms on April 4, prompting defense attorney Monica Lepe-Negrete to file a motion to set aside counts 1 and 2 in the informatio­n, or criminal complaint.

“This overreach reeks of persecutio­n and not prosecutio­n,” Lepe-Negrete’s motion stated.

Prior to Altamirano’s ruling on Wednesday, county Deputy District Attorney Kevin Cayton had argued that the prosecutio­n was on solid legal ground to have included counts 1 and 2 in its informatio­n, since students in the classrooms in question had sustained fear.

That fear was reportedly evidenced by one teacher’s decision to place her classroom on lockdown and move a large bookshelf in front of a window on Feb. 16, about a day after Manaig made his alleged threats to shoot up the classroom, Cayton said.

The prosecutio­n’s court filing opposing the defense motion had also argued that the court’s and defense attorney’s concerns about a group of people being identified as the victim of a crime, in place of a specific individual, are misplaced.

“Just because a magistrate has not seen a particular charging scheme before, it does not mean the charging scheme is not proper,” the prosecutio­n’s opposition to the motion stated.

Wednesday’s hearing on the motion to set aside the charges had effectivel­y pushed back the previously scheduled May 22 start date for Manaig’s trial. A pretrial hearing has instead been scheduled for July 11 at the courthouse in El Centro.

Manaig was arrested Feb. 16 for allegedly having threatened to shoot and kill classmates in two specific classes at the campus on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15.

He had initially faced three felony charges in connection to his arrest, two of which were related to the threats against the classrooms and which were subsequent­ly dismissed by Donnelly. The third charge, count 3, was related to alleged threats made against a female classmate.

Donnelly had also determined that evidence presented at the preliminar­y hearing suggested a second student had specifical­ly been threatened, resulting in Manaig facing another felony charge, count 4.

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