MADERA COUNTY – Two young men who were arrested on Monday, Dec. 16, in connection with the death of a 17-year-old Simi Valley girl, were in Madera Superior Court this morning for a bail review and pre-preliminary hearing.
Scott Jacob Mason, 20, of Simi Valley and Jacob Patrick Banaga, 18, of Visalia, were taken into custody after the body of 17-year-old Tara Maguire was found in Rock Creek following an admitted methamphetamine binge.
The two men told sheriff’s deputies that they had all been smoking meth, and that Maguire just disappeared and they didn’t know what had happened to her. They are being charged with Willful Cruelty to a Child, Penal Code 273(a), and could face up to six years in prison if convicted.
Mason’s attorney Adam Rodriguez told the court that this was indeed a tragic incident, but that there was no evidence of foul play.
“I do not want to make light of this tragedy,” said Rodriguez. “A young girl died. But the police report clearly states that she supplied the drugs and participated in doing drugs. It appears that in her drug-induced state she wandered off.”
Rodriguez said that his client didn’t contribute willingly to the girl’s demise, and in fact attempted to find her, then called the authorities and when her body was located, broke down in tears.
The parents of both young men were in court today, and Rodriguez asked that Mason be released to his parents’ custody.
Deputy District Attorney Tracy Wise asked the court to keep the men behind bars, citing incidents where both defendants had scrapes with the law as juveniles, including one with Mason that involved bringing a weapon to school. She said that they had shown themselves to be “willing to engage in taking large amounts of drugs with a 17-year-old, with no concern for the person who died.”
Wise also told Judge Dale Blea that the facts of the case show that the defendants had “care and custody” of the juvenile when the death occurred, and that both men are flight risks because they live outside the area.
Banaga’s attorney Greg Gross strongly objected to Wise’s supposition that his client was a flight risk, stating that the D.A.’s office had nothing but their own “creative imaginations” to support the notion that living outside the area was a motivating factor for his client to escape the judicial process.
Gross went on to characterize the tragic chain of events as “bizarre.”
“Being young and dumb is not always a crime,” Gross told the court. “But that’s exactly what we have here. Kids exercising their freedom to be young and dumb.”
As to the assertion that the two young men had “care and custody” of Tara Maguire at the time of her death, Gross told the court, “My client is only a few months older than the victim, and there is insufficient evidence that a crime was even committed.”
Judge Blea ordered that both defendants be evaluated by the Probation Department for the Pre-trial Release Program, and that they remain in custody on $110,000 bond pending completion of that report, scheduled to come before the court on Friday, Dec. 27.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the incident continues, and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office is asking the public for any information they may have about what happened at Rock Creek Campground this past Monday, or anyone in the area who may have seen any of the parties involved to call the Sheriff’s Office at 559-675-7770.
Click here for the complete story leading up to the arrest.