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Teen Stands Accused of Murder Charles Williams Arraigned for High School Shooting

By Ken Ellingwood and Tony Perry

Head bowed, eyes puffy, 15-year-old Charles Andrew Williams was formally charged with murder and attempted murder Wednesday, hours after shaken students began returning to the suburban high school where he was arrested after a shooting spree two days before.

Dozens of Santana High School students appeared at the San Diego County Superior Court in El Cajon for Williams’ arraignment. But after a brief hearing, Judge Herbert Exharos postponed the proceeding until March 26 at the request of defense attorneys, who said they might ask to move the case to juvenile court.

“It just makes me sick to see him,” said a weeping Sarah Strompolos, an 18-year-old who said she had attended “detention class” with Williams and remembered him as a quiet boy who sat in the corner by himself. “I think he should say something right now about why he did this.”

But Williams said nothing, did not make eye contact with anyone, and looked up only once, briefly, to glance at the judge. No family members were evident in the courtroom.

He stands accused of killing two classmates and wounding 13 other people Monday at the high school in Santee, an inland suburb of San Diego. Friends -- a few of whom turned out to support him Wednesday -- said he was tired of being picked on.

Under California law, prosecutors are entitled to charge serious cases against juveniles in adult court, so Williams’ lawyers would have to challenge the law to get the case moved to juvenile court.

Deputy Public Defender Steve Carroll said he wasn’t sure if he would do that. But, he added, “He is a juvenile. He just turned 15 this past month. He is a very young man -- young child.”

If convicted on all charges in adult court, Williams could face a sentence totaling more than 500 years in prison. Chief Deputy District Attorney Kris Anton said it was too early to say whether the prosecution would consider a plea bargain in the case.

A 23-page criminal complaint contained no new information about the crime, merely a catalog, in numbing, repetitive prose, of each of the 28 charges against him. In addition to the two charges of murder and 13 of attempted murder, Williams is accused of 13 counts of assault with a firearm. The murder charges carry a “special circumstance” enhancement, accusing him of lying in wait to kill Bryan Zuckor, 14, and Randy Gordon, 17.

Friends of the victims were among about two dozen Santana High students who turned out for the hearing, some clutching each other for support. They came from school after what was, for many, an awkward and traumatic return that morning.

Kyle Deal, an 18-year-old senior, said he had stayed on campus for just 90 minutes. “There was a lot of crying,” he said. “It was too soon. I couldn’t sit in the class. I couldn’t stay still and listen to them talk about it. They should have given us longer to cope with it.”

Deal and some of the other students were ushered into a jury room that had been set up as a remote viewing room for those unable to get into the tiny courtroom. The dominant mood was one of anger and bitterness as they watched the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

William Jones, 17, a senior, said he had known Gordon, and came to court “to make sure (Williams) gets what he deserves: the death penalty, dude. It was wrong what he did.”