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Ohio boy accused of setting fire that killed 5 released from custody to grandmother's house

GREENVILLE, Ohio — A judge Monday ordered that a 10-year-old boy accused of deliberately setting a fire that killed five people — including his mother and sister — be released from a juvenile detention center to the custody of his maternal grandmother.

"He's also a victim," Darke County Juvenile Judge Michael McClurg said to a packed hearing room, referring to the deaths of family members.

The boy had been held at a juvenile detention center in nearby Troy. Coming out of the hearing room, he smiled and waved at relatives who called out his name. The judge restricted the boy to his grandmother's home.

He is charged with five delinquency counts of murder and one delinquency count of aggravated arson in the Sept. 16 duplex apartment fire that killed his mother, his 8-year-old sister and three other children.

The boy's attorney, David Rohrer, said the boy denies the charges.

Although the boy's name has been widely reported, the judge said Monday news organizations were barred from reporting the name or publishing images of the boy because the case is a juvenile proceeding. The judge said he intended to file an order later Monday.

The Associated Press filed a challenge with the court, arguing that the rule against use of the defendant's name is an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and Ohio Supreme Court have ruled numerous times that what the judge proposes to do is forbidden, said Dave Tomlin, associate general counsel for the AP.

"The law is very clear," Tomlin said. "We hope the court is persuaded after examining the cases we've shown him that he should modify the rules he laid down this morning."

Police say the boy confessed to setting the fire but did not mean for anyone to die. Authorities have not said how the fire was started in this western Ohio city of some 13,000 people.

His attorney has said the boy was pressured during questioning by police and that he will seek to have the confession barred from evidence.

Prosecutor Phil Hoover said the boy had said he "no longer wanted to be in this world, and he wanted to die," although it was not clear whether the boy was referring to before or after the fire. But a social worker and a probation officer said they didn't consider him a suicide risk, a threat to others or a flight risk.

The boy had been on suicide watch at the detention center but is no longer considered suicidal, probation officer Scott Lind said in court. McClurg ordered the boy to undergo a psychological evaluation on Friday. No new court hearings were set.

About 30 people demonstrated in support of the boy's release outside the Darke County Government Center, where the hearing was held.

Killed were Chanan Palmer, 30, and his sister Kaysha Minnich. The other victims were Kayla Winans, 6, Je'Shawn Davis, 5, and Jasmine Davis, 3. Their mother, Christy Winans, 31, escaped the fire. She attended Monday's hearing and declined comment afterward.

The boy was allowed to briefly attend visitation for his mother and sister before their funerals last week, accompanied by several law enforcement officers.

The boy's maternal grandfather, Doug Minnich, said he's pleased that the boy was released. He said he believes the boy is innocent.

"That's the only part of Chanan we've got left," Minnich said. "They're trying to take him too."