The Arizona Daily Star, January 16, 1999

Charges dropped, for now, in death of Boys Ranch teen
By Heather Urquides

Pinal County prosecutors agreed to dismiss manslaughter and child-abuse charges against five former Arizona Boys Ranch employees in connection with the death of a California teen last year.

They will present the same charges to a Superior Court judge in an as-yet-unscheduled preliminary hearing.

Prosecutors agreed to remand the case after defense motions maintained there were at least 50 errors with the grand jury that indicted the five in late September in connection with the death of Nicholaus Contreraz, 16.

He died March 2 after being forced to exercise at the paramilitary boot camp in Oracle. An autopsy showed he died of an undiagnosed lung condition.

A grand jury indicted nurse Linda Babb, 46, and work specialists Troy Michael Jones, 28, Geoffrey Sean Lewis, 25, Michael Martin Moreno, 32, and Montgomery Clayton Hoover, 31.

``We've reviewed their argument and rather than taking the time to litigate this issue, we're just going to say we agree and go back and reargue this,'' said Charles Ratcliff, Pinal County Attorney's Office spokesman.

Jones' attorney, Michael L. Piccarreta, called the move ``a big victory for the Boys Ranch and also a tacit admission that the case should not have been indicted.''

Ratcliff stressed, however, that the office was not giving up on the case, just agreeing to re-present the case for charges.

``There seems to be a technical error,'' he said. ``It hasn't been confirmed where it may lie, but it definitely was not in our presentation.''

Ratcliff said he could not be more specific on the error.

Stephen M. Weiss, Babb's attorney, said prosecutors may be referring to the judge's failure to inform grand jury members of all their obligations and duties.

``It appeared that a couple of the grand jurors professed to have prior knowledge of problems at the Boys Ranch - having said that, they didn't remove themselves from the case, nor did the prosecutors make any inquiry to those jurors of what they potentially knew.''

Prosecutors have not released the roles each worker is accused of taking in the boy's death.

Court records show that authorities claimed Babb failed to diagnose the teen's lung condition.

``The bottom line is No. 1 - she's not a doctor,'' Weiss said. ``Based upon what I understand what she saw would not have given her any reason to think he had that kind of condition.''

Arizona Boys Ranch outlines its program on its Web site.

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