Trestle Fire, Plea Bargain

It reads like a sad story of justice not well served, that politics may have led astray; and if so, a sadder story yet for a community trying to deal with its problems with some compassion, clarity, and reason.

Setback for fire probe
Trestle blaze suspect pleads guilty to minor charge
By Denny Walsh – dwalsh@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The federal government’s investigation of Sacramento’s massive railroad trestle fire in March appeared to sustain a critical blow Tuesday, as authorities allowed the only known suspect to plead guilty to a minor charge and accept a sentence of 97 days already served as a pretrial detainee.

Jose Eduardo Moran-Marques pleaded guilty Tuesday to giving a false name when questioned May 15 about the fire by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who was investigating the arson along with the Sacramento Fire Department.

Moran-Marques was not released, however, because of an immigration hold order, and will be deported to his native El Salvador.

He has regularly been deported and re-entered the United States illegally. He told U.S. District Judge Edward J. Garcia on Tuesday that he is 30 and has had no formal education.

R. Steven Lapham, the assistant U. S. attorney who prosecuted the case, said after the sentencing that “the arson investigation is ongoing.”

“As far as Mr. Moran is concerned, we feel we’ve run our string on leads,” the veteran prosecutor said. “That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. It simply means we don’t feel right now we can prove it.”…

Moran-Marques told Bee reporters he was eating at Loaves & Fishes, a downtown Sacramento center that provides food and services to the homeless, on the afternoon of the fire. He said he saw the smoke as he was leaving the center.

A week after the fire, ATF Special Agent Steve Carman received information from a citizen informant who claimed to have overheard Moran-Marques admit he committed the arson.

Court records show that Moran-Marques placed a call from his cellular telephone at 5:37 p.m., four minutes before the fire was first reported. Based on the location of the cell phone tower through which his phone signal was transmitted, Moran-Marques was near the trestle at the time he made the call, according to a radio frequency engineer cooperating with the government.

In the months leading up to and shortly after the fire, Moran-Marques had several encounters with American River Parkway rangers.

These encounters occurred in the area of the trestle, and Moran-Marques had an encampment approximately a half mile from the trestle.

One or more of the encounters resulted in Moran-Marques receiving a citation for illegal camping.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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