Boys Ranch employees facing murder charge in teen's death San Jose Mercury News, March 29, 1999

Associated Press

Five Arizona Boys Ranch employees, once indicted for manslaughter, now face first-degree murder charges in the death of a California teen.

A criminal complaint, filed Thursday in Pinal County Superior Court, also accuses the former employees of child abuse in the March 1998 death of 16-year-old Nicholaus Contreraz.

``This is absolutely beyond reality,'' Darrow Soll, a lawyer for defendant Montgomery Hoover, told the Arizona Republic. ``No one has ever thought that this was a first-degree murder case.''

The indictment says the defendants committed first-degree murder by killing Contreraz as they committed, or attempted to commit, child abuse. Under Arizona law, first-degree murder charges may be filed when a death occurs during the commission of a felony.

Hoover, Geoffrey S. Lewis, Michael M. Moreno, Troy M. Jones and Linda Babb were initially indicted Sept. 30 on manslaughter charges. They all pleaded not guilty.

The charges were dismissed earlier this year by prosecutors, who blamed a technical problem in impaneling the grand jury.

Defense lawyers, meanwhile, blasted Assistant County Attorney Janna Vanderpool.

Soll accused the prosecutor of submitting the murder complaint in retaliation for defense efforts to dismiss the indictments and obtain discovery materials. ``We have to wonder if this is simply a response to aggressive lawyers,'' he said.

Contreraz, a Sacramento teen with an extensive criminal record, died of severe lung ailments at a Boys Ranch boot camp in Oracle, Ariz.

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