Arson suspect seeks mental health treatment in prison | Highlighted

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BRAWLEY — The attorney for a Holtville man suspected of burning nearly $1 million worth of hay in a series of arson attacks in April is seeking to save him from jail time due to mental health issues, said a county prosecutor.

The fires, mostly started on April 23, caused near-panic in the local farming community and prompted the reestablishment of a whistleblower hotline and reward fund.

Eriberto Saucedo Delgado, 54 at the time of his arrest, was being held in the county jail on $1 million bond. He previously pleaded not guilty to nine counts of arson and one count of recklessly burning brush.

A preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence to try Saucedo on the charges had been set for July 25, but was led by his defense attorney, Assistant District Attorney Mario Vela said Tuesday. Saucedo was represented by assistant public defender Kelly Jafine.

At a chambers hearing held in Brawley on Monday before Acting Judge Donal Donnelly, Jafine filed a motion for a hearing asking the court to grant his client a “mental health diversion”, Vela explained. Donnelly scheduled the case for August 30.

“We will challenge the motion. We believe, based on the facts, that the defendant is not eligible for this type of treatment,” Vela said, while declining to discuss specifics and adding, “That is what we fleshed out during of the hearing.

Jafine did not immediately return a call Wednesday morning seeking comment.

The diversion would allow Saucedo to receive mental health treatment for two years instead of prosecution and jail time, although it would be determined at the hearing where Saucedo would be during the diversion period, Vela said. If successful, the charges will be dismissed and the case sealed, Vela added.

“It’s not a skill,” Vela pointed out. “The question is whether he is eligible for treatment. The court must find that the defendant suffers from a mental health condition and that this played a significant role in the crimes, and that the defendant would respond to the treatment.

A key point, he added, is that “the court must find no risk, or a small risk, of harm to the public” from the diversion, he said.

The diversion option is relatively new, Vela said, having been passed into state law in the summer of 2018.

Vela and Sheriff’s Office investigators have previously declined to discuss what they suspect Saucedo’s motive may have been for setting numerous large haystacks on fire across a wide swath of the county.

Following the fires, the Imperial County Farm Bureau reinstated the “Burn a Bale, Go to Jail” initiative. The public information campaign includes posters and bumper stickers. It asks witnesses to call a tip line if they have information about the hay arson attacks and offers rewards for information that leads to arrests, convictions and jail time.

Saucedo was arrested April 24 by a sheriff’s office deputy as law enforcement and the farming community scoured the county for the person responsible for eight fires on April 23 and two more earlier in the county. month. The evidence against him has not come to light.

Managing Editor Gary Redfern can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 337-3415.

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