Trial for student accused of making death threats set to begin later this month


The trial for the 35-year-old Hawthorne man accused of threatening to create a massacre on the school’s library lawn last semester is set to begin Feb. 23, Judge Eric Taylor said in Torrance court today.

Taylor said James Lemus has one more court date on Feb. 17 before the trial begins.

Lemus had a closely shaved head and was dressed in a light blue L.A. County Jail jumpsuit similar to the ones he’s worn at past court dates.

“The threats are clear. They are abundant. They took place over an extended conversation,” Deputy DA Patrick O’Crowley said. “The police posted warning notices. It was covered by the campus newspaper.”

O’Crowley mentioned things Lemus said according to a temporary restraining order (TRO) that was granted in October. According to the TRO, O’Crowley said, Lemus told Veterans Center employee Miriam Jauregui he wanted to kill administrators, naming Vice President of Academic Affairs Francisco Arce and Lemus “said he’d make it look like the Santa Barbara massacre.”

The second TRO was granted to protect English instructor Leeanne Bergeron, who Lemus had a class with in the past, and “all employees of the El Camino Community College District.”

“I dare say there could be thousands of victims,” O’Crowley said. “It was intended to affect the administrators’ behavior.”

O’Crowley added that at one point months ago, Lemus indicated that he understood his comments would cause concern.

“It’s entirely foreseeable that when he’s talking about a massacre, he’s talking about more than who he named,” O’Crowley said.

Public defender Jonathan Cruz said there’s little evidence and that it’s a “bit vague” to say Lemus understood his statements would be of concern. In November, Jauregui testified that Lemus spoke to her for more than an hour about his childhood and being upset about his morning class. According to her written statement in the TRO, he cried in front of her.

“It’s like a rant,” Cruz said today. “The law is clear. We definitely don’t want to punish an emotional rant as part of 422.”

Penal Code 422 states, “Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat…”

Cruz said the threats “obviously” didn’t cause Jauregui enough concern to call the police. He added that Jauregui waited hours to tell her boss and told Director of Admissions Bill Mulrooney the next day. In October, Arce said he learned about the threats “probably two days after the statement was made – something Cruz brought up today.

“I’m not concerned with how it was relayed,” Taylor said. “I’m concerned with what was said.”

Eight counts of making criminal threats are being brought up against Lemus. The first is the threat against Arce. The other seven are threats against administrators who weren’t named by Lemus but who felt threatened.

Maria Lemus, James Lemus’ mother, EC Police Chief Michael Trevis, and Bergeron’s husband were in the courtroom.

After James Lemus was escorted out, Maria Lemus said, “He was a victim of the bullying of teachers and students. We made a complaint to Dean (of Enrollment Services William) Garcia and Rebecca Cobb (former director of student development). No one wants to mention he’s the victim of bullying.”