OROVILLE -- A 72-year-old man was formally charged Friday for allegedly killing three and then setting their bodies on fire in a vehicle June 13.
Outside of Butte County Superior Court, District Attorney Mike Ramsey detailed what allegedly took place at the Centerville Road residence of defendant Donald George Clark on June 12.
In court, Judge Michael Deems informed Clark, of Butte Creek Canyon, that he was charged with three felony counts of murder and a felony count of arson.
Although authorities are waiting for positive DNA identification, the Butte County Sheriff's Office said Friday circumstantial evidence identified the victims as Roland Lowe, 15, his mother Colleen Lowe, 46, and Richard Jones Jr., 17. The court charges also identify the victims.
The murder counts include the special allegation that Clark fired a weapon causing great bodily injury and the special circumstance of multiple murder.
If Clark is convicted for the murders and special circumstance, he could be sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole.
Clark did not enter a plea Friday.
Deems appointed defense attorney Jesus Rodriguez to represent Clark and set a hearing Tuesday where an initial plea may be entered.
Outside of court, Ramsey said Clark had known one of the victims. Jones, the 17-year-old, and his family knew Clark and one of the neighbors, who was also from Sacramento.
Jones had stayed at the property on three previous summers. Ramsey said Clark and Jones reportedly had a friendly relationship, but there was a falling out last year. Clark allegedly accused the male of having stolen property and didn't want the teenager to return.
According to Ramsey, investigators believe Jones was joined by Roland and Colleen Lowe in driving to Clark's property on June 11. Their trip in a green 2000 Acura TL — reportedly stolen that day from Sacramento — was extended because they got lost. Ramsey said there was surveillance video of the trio in Shasta County.
On June 12, they parked on the 14000 block of Centerville Road and walked toward Clark's residence. Ramsey said Clark used a 12-gauge pump shotgun to fire on the three as they approached his residence. Two people suffered frontal shots while one was shot in the side.
"He saw them come into his place. He wanted them off and that's when the shooting occurred," Ramsey said.
Ramsey didn't specify why the group went to the property but said it did not appear to be drug-related.
"This is just a tragic situation where tempers flared and death occurred," Ramsey said.
After the shooting, Clark allegedly put the bodies in the vehicle and parked it on the Skyway near Powellton Road between DeSabla and Stirling City. The defendant allegedly used gasoline to set the vehicle on fire before returning to his property on a bicycle.
Firefighters extinguished the fire after 12:15 a.m. June 13. They discovered two bodies in the trunk and the third in the back seat.
Ramsey said investigators used several resources to connect the bodies to Clark, including a call from Jones' mother. She reportedly called the Sheriff's Office after the fire to report he was missing and she knew he was traveling to the area.
Based on information gathered throughout the north state, the Butte County Sheriff's Office served a search warrant on Clark's property at 5 a.m. Wednesday. Officials later recovered a shotgun from a storage unit in Chico and Ramsey said there were indications other items were moved to the unit.
Clark reportedly had several interviews with investigators. On Thursday, sheriff's Lt. Al Smith said Clark had been cooperative the morning following the search.
Ramsey said the defendant wasn't in police custody during the first interview. At some point, the defendant was informed of his Miranda right to remain silent. After additional interviews, Clark was ultimately arrested and booked into Butte County Jail after 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Ramsey said his office hasn't yet determined whether to pursue the death sentence, but included the possibility because the matter is a triple homicide. He said they will consider factors including Clark's background, the wishes of the victims' families and if it is a worthwhile use of resources given the defendant's age.
Clark is being held at Butte County Jail without bail, given the nature of the charges.