Date: 1989-02-02

Washington Post
Author: Veronica T. Jennings; Washington Post Staff Writer

Jacob S. Clemons, an Ellicott City 15-year-old charged with arson and murder in the Oct. 30 fire that killed his two younger brothers, was "devastated" after he was unable to locate his natural parents during a 1985 trip to Seoul, the director of the Maryland Juvenile Advocacy Program testified yesterday

Clemons' deep disappointment and lack of a sense of belonging "may have triggered a lot of his behavioral problems," David E. Tracey told Howard County Circuit Court Judge J. Thomas Nissel. Tracey, testifying in a pretrial hearing on whether to transfer Clemons' case to juvenile court, said the youth's emotional problems later prompted his family to seek psychiatric treatment for him.

Tracey was one of several witnesses yesterday who painted a conflicting portrait of a troubled, yet outwardly cheerful and articulate youth who craved attention and sought to overcome his physical handicaps. The witnesses -- summer camp counselors, church and school officials and the director of a juvenile treatment center -- recommended that Clemons be remanded to the custody of the juvenile court for long-term rehabilitation and counseling, rather than be tried as an adult.

But county prosecutor Richard P. O'Connor said Clemons should be punished for setting the house fire that killed his two younger brothers, James, 5, and Michael, 8. Police investigators testified that Clemons told them he set his mattress afire in an attempt to commit suicide. Six other persons survived the fire.

Since the tragedy, the Clemons' family has severed relations with the youth, according to court testimony. On Tuesday, Clemons' father, David Clemons, said in an interview that his son "should pay a price" for the alleged crimes. "Maybe not 50 years or 20 years, but something . . . Those boys were helpless. There are things we can never forget," he said.

But Tracey urged the court not to take punitive action against a frail, disturbed youth whom David and Sally Clemons took from a filthy Seoul orphanage and raised in a family with 14 other adopted children.

At age 12, Jacob Clemons, who has cerebral palsy, returned to Seoul to search for his natural parents, Tracey testified. But he was "unable to find one iota of evidence of his natural parents," even though the other adopted children of the Clemonses have been able to trace their family roots, he said.

Tracey said Jacob Clemons suffered from "longstanding, documented depression and suicidal tendencies" that could best be treated outside a prison setting. Clemons could face a life sentence if convicted as an adult of first-degree murder. Tracey said Clemons would be ineligible for a program that treats inmates under 18 who are sentenced to terms of less than 10 years


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