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OAKLAND (CBS SF) – A 16-year-old Oakland boy pleaded not guilty Thursday to an aggravated mayhem charge for allegedly setting a skirt-wearing transgender teen on fire on an AC Transit bus in November.
Richard Thomas, who is being prosecuted as an adult, is being held in custody without bail for the alleged attack on 18-year-old Luke “Sasha” Fleischman. He is scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on February 19 and his preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 25.
Sasha, who was named Luke at birth but doesn’t identify as either male or female, suffered second- and third-degree burns after Thomas allegedly used a ligher to set his clothing on fire as he slept in the back of an AC Transit bus as it traveled near MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue in Oakland at about 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 4.
Sasha, a student at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was treated at the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco for three weeks but was released the day before Thanksgiving and returned to school the following week.
In addition to aggravated mayhem, Thomas is charged with assault and hate crime clauses.
Thomas’ attorney, William DuBois, has admitted that security footage from the AC Transit bus makes it clear that Thomas is the person who set Sasha on fire but the question is what the circumstances were and what Thomas’ state of mind was.
DuBois said Thomas only intended to carry out a prank in which there would only be a small puff of smoke and he was “mortified” when Sasha became engulfed in flames.
DuBois recently filed a motion seeking to have Thomas prosecuted in juvenile court instead of adult court but a judge denied that motion at a hearing two weeks ago.
After Thomas’ brief hearing Thursday, DuBois said he may make another attempt to have Thomas prosecuted as a juvenile, possibly as soon as his preliminary hearing next month.
DuBois said he believes that one of the main reason prosecutors chose to prosecute Thomas as an adult is that he has a criminal record in juvenile court but he believes Thomas’ juvenile records are “inaccurate.”
DuBois said he has been seeking to get copies of Thomas’ juvenile
records and will finally be able to see them on Friday
A large number of Thomas’ family members and friends came to his hearing today to support him, as did two ministers who have visited him in custody at Alameda County Juvenile Hall.
DuBois said the ministers are supporting Thomas because he has “an attractive and engaging personality.”