OAKLAND -- A 16-year-old accused of setting a sleeping teen's skirt on fire on an AC Transit bus appeared in court Tuesday with his lawyer and supported by several family members.

Richard Thomas, an Oakland High School student who has been charged as an adult, returns to court at 9 a.m. Friday to enter a plea.

"He is entitled to a vigorous defense," Oakland-based defense attorney Daniel Shriro said after the brief court hearing. "We intend to provide that."

His family declined to comment. Thomas is accused of lighting 18-year-old Luke "Sasha" Fleischman's skirt on fire as Fleischman slept in a rear seat of the bus on Nov. 4, according to police.

Thomas told police he lit Fleischman's skirt on fire because "he was homophobic," according to a police probable cause statement. Fleischman, a senior at Maybeck High School in Berkeley who is recovering from second- to third-degree burns, does not identify as male or female but as "nonbinary" gender. Fleischman often wears a skirt, according to friends and family.

Thomas has been charged with aggravated mayhem and assault with means likely to produce great bodily injury, both felonies that include two hate crime enhancements. If convicted, he could go to prison for life. He remains in custody on no bail.

David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at twitter.com/daviddebolt.



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