updated 10/1/2007 7:20:58 PM ET 2007-10-01T23:20:58

A judge Monday ordered that a 10-year-old boy accused of deliberately setting a fire that killed five people — including his mother and sister — be released from a juvenile detention center to the custody of his maternal grandmother.

“He’s also a victim,” Darke County Juvenile Judge Michael McClurg said to a packed hearing room, referring to the deaths of family members.

Timothy Douglas Byers had been held at a juvenile detention center in nearby Troy. Coming out of the hearing room, he smiled and waved at relatives who called out his name. The judge restricted the boy to his grandmother’s home and said she must obtain alternative schooling for him in this western Ohio city.

He is charged with five delinquency counts of murder and one delinquency count of aggravated arson in the Sept. 16 duplex apartment fire that killed his mother, his 8-year-old sister and three other children.

Police have said the boy confessed to setting the fire but did not mean for anyone to die. He was charged with murder because the deaths occurred as a result of the arson, authorities have said.

Byers’ attorney, David Rohrer, said the boy denies the charges. Rohrer has said he will try to block use of the alleged confession, saying the boy was pressured into it.

Judge allows name to be reported
Although the boy’s name has been widely reported, the judge at first ordered news organizations Monday not to report the name or publish images of the boy because the case is a juvenile proceeding. McClurg said he considered the boy’s age, the potential short- and long-term impact on the boy and his family and potential threats to him.

The judge later modified the order to allow the name to be published. He allowed images to be published, except for still and television photos of the boy at court, including hallways and the parking lot.

The Associated Press had filed a challenge with the court, arguing that the rule against use of the defendant’s name is an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and Ohio Supreme Court have ruled numerous times that what the judge proposes to do is forbidden, said Dave Tomlin, associate general counsel for the AP.

“We’re glad the judge was willing to look carefully at the law and modify his order,” Tomlin said.

Christy Winans, 31, who escaped the blaze but lost her three children, attended the hearing at the Darke County Government Center. She had tears in her eyes afterward but declined to comment.

Child no longer considered suicide risk
Prosecutor Phil Hoover said the boy had said he “no longer wanted to be in this world, and he wanted to die,” although it was not clear whether the boy was referring to before or after the fire. But a social worker and a probation officer said they didn’t consider him a suicide risk, a threat to others or a flight risk.

Byers had been on suicide watch at the detention center but is no longer considered suicidal, probation officer Scott Lind said in court. McClurg ordered the boy to undergo a psychological evaluation Friday. No new court hearings were set.

About 30 people demonstrated in support of the boy’s release outside the Darke County Government Center, where the hearing was held.

Killed were Chanan Palmer, 30, and the boy’s sister Kaysha Minnich. The other victims were Kayla Winans, 6, Je’Shawn Davis, 5, and Jasmine Davis, 3. Their mother, Christy Winans, 31, escaped the fire. She attended Monday’s hearing and declined to comment afterward.

Byers was allowed to briefly attend visitation for his mother and sister before their funerals last week, accompanied by several law enforcement officers.

The boy’s maternal grandfather, Doug Minnich, said he’s pleased that Byers was released. He said he believes the boy is innocent.

“That’s the only part of Chanan we’ve got left,” Minnich said. “They’re trying to take him too.”

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