Date: 1989-02-03

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

The father of an Ellicott City youth charged with murdering his two younger brothers in a house fire in October told a judge yesterday that he wanted his son harshly punished because the youth was manipulative, frequently played with fire and lied when he said he set the blaze in an effort to commit suicide

Jacob S. Clemons, 15, had told police, psychiatrists and others after the fire that he had wanted to kill himself for almost a year. He told police that he had considered jumping from the patio deck of his parents' home, setting himself on fire and that he had taken an overdose of pills. The youth, who has cerebral palsy, told police he had tried to kill himself when he set the fire that asphyxiated his 8- and 5-year-old brothers.

But Clemons' father, who had taken the youth from a squalid Seoul orphanage eight years ago, described an adopted son who lied and played up the "poor orphan" role to get attention. David Clemons testified against his son during a hearing in Howard County Circuit Court to determine whether the youth, charged as an adult with first-degree murder and arson, should be tried instead as a juvenile.

David Clemons said he didn't want his son to return to his adoptive family and that the youth should be dealt with harshly by the criminal justice system.

"My feeling is that Jacob should receive some type of punishment, and more of his treatment should be as an adult," David Clemons testified in a strong, unwavering voice. "I have very little faith in the juvenile system."

Jacob Clemons, who uses crutches, was not present in the courtroom yesterday because he didn't want to hear his father's statements or the testimony about his past sexual and physical abuse at another home, said his attorney, Louis Willemin.

Earlier in the day, a psychiatrist testified that Jacob Clemons said he had become severely depressed and suicidal after he was sent from the Clemons home to live temporarily with a Pennsylvania family that allegedly beat him him on his buttocks and back with a belt, and forced him to eat dog food, play strip poker with his foster father and crawl around on his hands and knees without his crutches.

In closing arguments yesterday, Willemin asked Howard Circuit Court Judge J. Thomas Nissel to transfer Clemons' case back to juvenile court, where he could be placed in a long-term residential treatment facility.

"Do we send him to the penitentiary with his Snoopy pillow and night light?" Willemin said. "I don't think that makes sense from the standpoint of society," he said.

But prosecutor Richard P. O'Connor said the youth should be punished for the Oct. 30 blaze. Six other persons survived the early morning fire. The youth's parents were vacationing in Aruba when the fire occurred.

"If the court sends him to juvenile court, he will not be held responsible for his actions," O'Connor said. "It would be saying you can burn down your parents' house and kill two brothers, and we're going to get you treatment and rehabilitation."

O'Connor also disputed Clemons' assertions that he set his mattress on fire as a suicide attempt. "He set the fire to gain attention," O'Connor said. "All this talk about suicide has come only from him" after the fire.

David Clemons yesterday described his son as a very intelligent, likable youth who seemed to fit in well with the family shortly after he was adopted at age 7. But after a few years, Clemons said his son, one of 15 adopted children and one biological child of the Clemonses, became abusive to his younger brothers, exposed himself to neighbors, and began starting fires in ashtrays and on a gas stove.

David Clemons disputed testimony from a social worker who said the teen-ager was "devastated" after he failed to find his natural parents during a 1985 visit to Korea.

The youth knew beforehand he couldn't trace his biological parents, David Clemons said, and the trip was intended to help "him understand some of his roots."

Clemons said the family tried to place Jacob with another family in rural Pennsylvania in August 1986 where they hoped he could receive more personal attention.

But "that whole thing turned out be a disaster," testified psychiatrist Carol C. Kleinman, who said Jacob Clemons was physically and sexually abused while in Pennsylvania. After being told of the alleged abuse, David Clemons said he brought the youth back to Howard County.

But the youth's behavorial problems returned with him, David Clemons said.

His son lied, beat his younger brothers and exhibited deviant sexual conduct, David Clemons testified.

The father said he saw little evidence of depression or suicidal tendencies in his son. "At times, he seemed depressed," Clemons said. "But he did things like that to get attention."

Nissel said yesterday he will issue his ruling from the bench on Tuesday


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