Man Who Burned Son Gets 25–to–Life Term

By KIM CURTIS, Associated Press Writer
Wed Apr 4, 8:30 PM ET

A man who severely burned his 6–year–old son in a custody dispute more than two decades ago was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on a weapons charge Wednesday under California’s “three strikes” law.

A lighter sentence against Charley Charles, formerly Charles Rothenberg, had been thrown out by an appeals court that found his attempted murder and arson convictions in the 1983 case amounted to two strikes against him, not one, as the defense maintained.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ming–Mei Lee said Charles, 66, was the “kind of individual for whom the three strikes law was passed.”

She cited Charles’ lengthy criminal record, which dates to 1958 and includes multiple felony convictions in three states for robbery, forgery and weapon charges.

“There really has been no substantial time period where the defendant has been law–abiding,” Lee said.

In 1983, Charles took his son to a Southern California motel room, gave the boy a sleeping pill, doused the room with kerosene and lit the fuel before leaving. David Rothenberg, who has changed his name to Dave Dave, suffered burns over 90 percent of his body and was severely disfigured.

Charles, who said he was distraught about losing the boy to his wife in a custody battle, served seven years for attempted murder and arson. The relatively light sentence drew outrage and helped pave the way for stricter sentencing guidelines.

At issue Wednesday was Charles’ 2005 conviction for being a felon in possession of a handgun and ammunition. Lee gave Charles seven years after ruling that the 1983 convictions count as only one strike, but the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned that decision in January.

Defense lawyer Gabriel Basson argued the crime should be considered one strike because it involved “a single act and a single victim.”

Basson also called the arson a “moment of madness.” Lee, however, said the crime “defines who the defendant is.”

Charles has two pending cases against him. He’s accused of committing financial fraud against three victims and making threats against prosecutor Shay Matthews. Outside the courtroom, Matthews said justice had finally been served in the case.