Two teens charged with killing five recent immigrants from Senegal by setting fire to their house in Denver will continue to be tried as adults after a judge ruled this week that the trauma caused by the crime both locally and abroad required the possibility of a tough punishment.
The two teens are accused of starting the Aug. 5, 2020, fire out of revenge after the robbery of one of their cellphones, only realizing later that they targeted the wrong people, according to investigators.
Djibril and Adja Diol, their 22-month-old daughter Khadija, as well as Djibril Diol’s sister Hassan Diol and her infant daughter Hawa Baye died in the fire.
The two teens charged were 16 at the time of the fire and were charged as adults, but their lawyers had asked for their cases to be moved to juvenile court. A friend who was 15 at the time of the fire, initially feared by some to have been a hate crime, is being prosecuted in juvenile court.
In a ruling Tuesday, Judge Martin Egelhoff said that in addition to the great loss of those who died and the grief to their family and friends in West Africa, the close-knit community of immigrants the victims belonged to lived in fear and uncertainty during the long investigation about why such a crime occurred and whether they might be targeted.
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In his 23 years as a judge, Egelhoff said he had not seen a case with “such gravity, consequence and loss.”
During a hearing to weigh the evidence in the case last year, lawyers for the two teens emphasized that they never talked about a specific plan to set a fire or expressed a desire to hurt anyone in any of the messages obtained by investigators.
One of the teens told investigators they went to the home without a plan, possibly to vandalize it.