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5 attempted murder counts dropped against California high school student, who pleads to intimidation

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The Ontario Christian High student who was accused of plotting to shoot up the school and murder classmates pleaded no contest to one count of witness intimidation on Thursday, May 30, in Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga.

As part of the plea agreement negotiated with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, five counts of attempted murder were dropped.

Sebastian Bailey Villaseñor was ordered released from custody pending sentencing on July 1.

The agreement says he will be sentenced to three years of probation and serve no jail time, District Attorney Jason Anderson said. Villaseñor had been in custody since his arrest in February.

Villaseñor, 18, faced five counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors said he posed for selfies with his father’s rifles at their Eastvale home, endlessly watched videos about school shootings and obsessively researched the topic right down to which ammunition could pierce bullet-resistant vests and how long it would take police to respond to the school.

Villaseñor told detectives, they testified, how he would do it theoretically. Prosecutors never alleged that Villaseñor fired a shot or pointed a gun at anyone.

A Villaseñor family member and school officials testified that he might be autistic, which defense attorney Daniel DeLimon suggested could have influenced his behavior, but there has been no formal diagnosis.

DeLimon said Villaseñor previously rejected a plea deal with a charge of assault with a gun because he did not commit that crime.

DeLimon had argued that the law on attempted murder requires not just preparation and planning, but a direct step to carry out a plot, and that the charges should be dismissed.

But Deputy District Attorney Debbie Ploghaus successfully argued to a judge that the 4,500 related searches, downloads or text messages found on Villaseñor’s electronic devices amounted to the direct step required by law to hold him for trial.

A father whose daughter was at one point considered a victim of attempted murder fought for jail time for Villaseñor.

“This man needs help,” the dad told Superior Court Judge Jon Ferguson on Thursday, imploring Ferguson to reject the plea bargain. “I think the appropriate place for this help is in a custody environment.”

Judge Ferguson, however, said the deal protects public safety, and he accepted the terms of the agreement. Those include Villaseñor obtaining mental health counseling.

Villaseñor was expected to be released Thursday night from West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where he had been held in lieu of $1 million bail since his arrest.

“I’m very happy he’s coming home,” Villaseñor’s father, Ramiro Villaseñor, said after the hearing. “But I’m not happy that he had to take a plea deal for something he did not do.”

The victim in the intimidation charge was someone who Ramiro Villaseñor considers his son’s best friend: his 15-year-old sister.

On the morning of Feb. 8, the siblings argued about a girl they saw as they pulled into the school parking lot. Sebastian Villaseñor considered the girl to be a snob and angrily told his sister to shut up, clenching his fist at her, the sister testified.

Seeking retaliation against her brother, she told school officials that he had posed for selfies with their father’s rifles in their Eastvale home and offered other details including how her brother voraciously consumed violent video games. Her father said she didn’t imagine the legal trouble that was to come.

Alarmed school officials called Ontario police.

A judge later ordered Villaseñor held for trial at the end of a preliminary hearing, where the standard of proof is much lower than at a trial. Even during the preliminary trial, the case appeared to lose steam when an Ontario police detective testified that officials received theoretical answers from Villaseñor when he was asked theoretical questions such as, “If you were going to shoot up the school, how would you do it? … If you were going to shoot somebody, who would it be?”

Also, the lead detective on the case testified that he could not identify a specific individual other than Villaseñor’s sister who was a victim, even though the other five were identified by name during the hearing. Villaseñor had named four girls who he perceived had snubbed him and a boy dating a girl who repeatedly rejected Villaseñor’s requests for dates, one Ontario police detective testified in the preliminary hearing.

The one father, speaking after Thursday’s hearing, said his daughter “barely knew who (Villaseñor) was.”

But she’s now in therapy and is afraid to go outdoors alone, he said.

Anderson, the district attorney, explained after Thursday’s hearing why he agreed to this resolution of the case.

“It was unlike any case we have seen,” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of ideation to the point of worshipping school shootings. There was a concern that something could happen. I think we did the right thing (with the original charges),” Anderson said.

“You were looking at a situation where no weapon was brought to school, no one was injured,” he said.

“It also included a person who was two weeks into his adult life, obviously focused on some hate and a lack of adequate boundaries, and this was the best way to ensure those boundaries existed for three years (with probation),” Anderson said, noting that there would not be any eyes on Villaseñor if he had been acquitted.

Defense attorney DeLimon said he had “mixed feelings” about the plea, saying that Villaseñor had always insisted he was not guilty of any crime.



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