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2 boys arrested for charred body found in desert

Amber LeAnn Hess
The body of Amber LeAnn Hess was found Monday in the Arizona desert.AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two teenage boys were arrested and charged with first-degree murder Wednesday in the killing of a 17-year-old girl whose burned body was found in the desert.

The boys, both 16, made statements that led detectives to believe they killed Amber LeAnn Hess, and evidence linking them to the crime was found in their homes, Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez said. Hess' mother said one boy had been a close friend of her daughter's.

Nicolas Castillo and Todd Hoke were charged with first-degree murder and ordered held on $1 million bond, court officials said.

The complaints charged the teens as adults. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 3.

"Basically they just didn't like her and for whatever reason were planning to kill her," Vasquez said. "They went to her home and — through a combination of beating, stabbing and choking — killed her."

Hess' parents found blood and signs of a struggle in their home in Queen Creek on Sunday when they returned from a weekend trip.

A body found in the desert on Monday was positively identified as Amber's using dental records, Vasquez said.

The Pinal County public defender's office was appointed to represent Hoke, and private attorney Paul Green is representing Castillo. Neither immediately returned calls seeking comment.

'He was like a brother to her'
Candy Hess said Hoke was one of her daughter's best friends, spent hours in their home playing video games and would call constantly.

"He was like a brother to her, which makes this even more confusing to us," Candy Hess said.

She said her daughter had a falling-out with the boy, who wasn't her boyfriend, she said.

Both boys were students at Coolidge High School, from which Amber Hess recently graduated, and lived within blocks of her home.

Deputy Chief Clint Lee said the evidence tying the pair to the crime included fingerprints and weapons.

The assault is believed to have happened late Friday or early Saturday. Detectives aren't sure whether Amber let her attackers into her home or whether they forced their way inside.

"From what I'm told this girl fought for her life in that home, and she didn't die easy — it was very brutal," Vasquez said. "If they had been adults I would be screaming for the death penalty in this case."