By Amy Silverman
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One of the boys lit Bunsen burners in an adjacent room before fleeing. The boys went to Saville's home and climbed into his tree house, where they had a view of the high school. They waited for it to erupt into flames. It never did.
Police who entered the building luckily didn't open the door to the room where the burners were lit, avoiding what firefighters said was a potentially fatal explosion.
The incident landed Saville -- who had just turned 17 -- in adult court, because he was on juvenile probation at the time for a series of undisclosed offenses.
Saville pleaded guilty to attempted arson of an unoccupied structure in April 1998.
Prior to the sentencing, prosecutor Jim Blake told the court that Saville "shows no regard for people, property or society. He did not care if anyone was killed because of his action."
His mother offered a different view.
"Because he is a little shy and unsure of himself, he has a hard time steering clear of certain friends who are a bad influence on him," Rebecca Belanger wrote to Judge Katz.
Her son, she stated, thrived when he attended a boot camp program called Project Challenge, operated by the Army National Guard. He earned his GED there in January 1997.
"He was self-assured, confident, he respected himself and others. James' graduation was the proudest moment in his life and in mine," she wrote.
But soon after her son's graduation, Belanger developed marital problems with Saville's stepfather that required her to seek a protection order. Saville tried to help his mother with bills; he gave her $700 in graduation money -- the most money he'd ever had.
In October 1997, Saville and a friend ran away from home and set up camp in South Mountain Park. They broke into two cars to get money for food and Saville later sold a sawed-off shotgun.
A few days later, the boys vandalized Maryvale High School.
Prior to Saville's sentencing, adult probation officer Michael Watts submitted his evaluation of Saville to Judge Katz. "The defendant has demonstrated by his successful completion of Project Challenge that he does well following orders," Watts wrote, recommending a one-year jail sentence followed by extensive supervised probation.
"His young age of 17 makes this officer believe that there is some hope of modifying his behavior through community supervision," Watts stated.
Katz sentenced Saville to 18 months in prison and five years of intensive probation.
Saville served his term without major incident. Prison records and statements he made indicate he kept to himself, watched lots of television, drew crude plans for perpetual energy machines and guns, missiles and pipe bombs.
He bragged that he wanted to kill the judge and the prosecutor who sent him to prison -- a common theme among inmates.
Saville told undercover detectives he dreamed of fleeing to California, getting a fake passport and skipping out to Mexico or Amsterdam. He studied credit-card scams.
Saville also struggled with isolation and despair, sometimes recording his feelings in verse:
"I have lost the will to live
Simply nothing more for me
I need the end to set me free
From this pain and agony.
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh! Please god wake me."
When Saville was finally released on the afternoon of July 8, instead of receiving "community supervision" as urged by his probation officer, Saville walked into a conspiracy that would put him behind bars again within hours.
On July 1, the day after sheriff's detectives Antone Jacobs and Phil Dougherty interviewed informant Burrows at Perryville, the Sheriff's Office asked the Department of Corrections to bug Saville's cell.
Dougherty told DOC investigator Robert F. Martz that MCSO "upper management was very interested in this case and would appreciate any assistance we can offer them," DOC records show.
The evening before, prison guards had searched Saville's cell and confiscated more than 15 pages of notes, including crude diagrams of a pipe bomb, detonating rockets, formulas for LSD, nitroglycerin and TNT as well as a listing of Internet sites containing data on body armor and recipes for explosives.
On July 2, DOC agreed to bug Saville. He and Burrows were moved to adjoining cells that were locked down 24 hours a day -- except for trips to a recreation yard and Burrows' frequent meetings with sheriff's investigators. The bug was placed in an air duct that ran between the two cells.
The recording began at 6:45 p.m. on July 2. The Attorney General's Office has released written descriptions of the Saville-Burrows conversations that sheriff's investigators monitored around the clock. Copies of the tapes have not been released. Likewise, one transcript of sheriff's investigators' four meetings with Burrows has been released -- details of the other three meetings come from investigators' notes of those conversations.
On the morning of July 3, Burrows tried to jump-start the conversation with Saville, whom he couldn't see.
"Fuck prison, fuck Joe, fuck the Sheriff's Office," eavesdropping deputies quoted Burrows as saying.
"I'm just gonna keep my mouth shut," replied Saville, who was suspicious in the wake of the seizure of his papers and transfer to lockdown.
At 9 a.m., Burrows was taken to an interview room where he met with MCSO detectives for a second time.