Trial of Cocos Fire suspect to begin

SAN DIEGO (KUSI/ CNS) – Opening statements were presented Tuesday in the trial of a San Marcos teen who is accused of setting last May’s Cocos Fire.

The prosecution is trying to prove the girl deliberately set a fire in her own backyard, and that ignited the devastating wild fire.

The teenager accused of starting the Cocos Wildfire last May, which burned nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed three dozen homes, intentionally set a fire behind her home which grew out of control, said prosecutors.

The teenager faces more than 13 years in custody if she is convicted of all five arson counts. She is charged with starting two separate fires last May 14.

She was 13 at the time of the fire.

Deputy District Attorney Shawnalyse Ochoa made her remarks as a non-jury trial got under way for the minor. There was no jury present in the trial because the suspect is a minor and juries are not present in juvenile cases.

Ochoa told the judge that the accused went into her backyard with a lighter last May 13 and set a branch on fire. The teenager then went back in the house and told her sister, “There’s a fire out back,” according to the prosecutor.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the small blaze, but the next day, the girl posted a photo of a fire burning in Carlsbad on social media, then went to her backyard and set another fire, which spread to nearby trees, according to Ochoa.

Two Cal Fire investigators determined that an ember from the fire behind the girl’s home traveled .44 of a mile to spark the Cocos fire, according to the prosecutor.

Ochoa said the teenager intentionally, willfully and maliciously set both fires behind her home, and urged the judge to find her guilty.

Defense attorney Ryan McGlinn said his expert would dispute the prosecution theory that an ember traveled almost a half-mile to ignite the Cocos blaze.

Defense attorney Ryan McGlinn said his expert would dispute the prosecution theory that an ember traveled almost a half-mile to ignite the Cocos blaze.

“We’re talking a phantom ember,” McGlinn told the judge.

The Cocos fire was one of more than a dozen brushfires that erupted in hot, dry and windy conditions last spring. Officials set the cost of extinguishing the fires at nearly $28 million.

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