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'I didn't do it!' mom of 15-year-old attempted murder suspect says he tried to tell her in court

CLEARWATER — The call from police at 5 a.m. Tuesday was the kind that would shake any mother.

The detective's voice made Shannon Mastrangelo numb.

Your son is going to be questioned, she recalled the detective saying. She asked why.

"Arson," the detective said.

Her son, Jack Ault, was arrested early Tuesday and charged with attempted murder, arson and grand theft auto.

Police said they suspect him of helping his 11-year-old girlfriend set fire to her mother's bed as she slept, and then taking her car.

When Mastrangelo arrived at the Clearwater police station, a detective escorted her to the interrogation room.

Jack, 15, was sitting in his shorts and a shirt. His clothes had been taken as evidence. The house fire at 1580 Huntington Lane earlier that morning, police say, was started by gasoline poured around and on the bed of Nancy Broadhead, the girl's mother.

Broadhead suffered burns and smoke inhalation, but was released from Tampa General Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. She declined to speak with reporters.

Her daughter is not being named because of her age.

Mastrangelo's son had been in handcuffs since 2 a.m., when he was arrested at a friend's house — where he had told her he would be spending the night.

"What's this about a fire, about (the girl)?" Mastrangelo asked.

"All I know is (she's) wanting to kill her mom and they pick me up," he said.

Mastrangelo said there was no way her son could be capable of committing the crimes.

"My son lies, I catch him. I catch him in a lot of lies. I know when he's lying. He tells a lie, he can't remember what he said five minutes later," Mastrangelo said.

Jack, who is being held at the Pinellas County Juvenile Assessment Center, attended a hearing Wednesday morning where he was advised of the charges.

During the hearing, Mastrangelo watched what was going on in disbelief.

"He had this blank stare, like he didn't know what was going on. He kept mouthing to me, 'I didn't do it. I didn't do it,' " she said. "He swears up and down it was (the girl)."

• • •

Neighbors knew Nancy Broadhead's voice from its near-nightly appearance in the neighborhood streets. She called out her daughter's name most nights as it was getting dark, beckoning her to come inside for dinner.

But the voice that day didn't come until after 1 a.m., when Nancy was slumped and soot-blackened in front of her burning home. She was screaming that her daughter may be inside. But, police say, her daughter and the girl's boyfriend were the ones responsible for the fire.

Beth Watts, a Clearwater police spokeswoman, said Tuesday the motivation may have been an argument between the girl and her mother over cigarettes.

"It's something that had been going on for a period of time. There had been tension between the mother and the child, which culminated with the argument over the cigarettes."

The argument, neighbors say, was one of many Nancy had with her daughter in recent months. Lately, some fights also centered on the social-networking site MySpace.com.

On her page, the 11-year-old girl refers to herself as Mz. Juicey and includes profanity.

Applications on her page range from quiz results that list her as a "naughty girl" to a game with a green-and-black digital dog she created, named "Bad Gurl."

She makes numerous references to drug use, including a series of pictures in which she says she is "high." In all the photos, she is pouting or scowling.

Neighbor Suzie Jackson said the girl wasn't always that way, that she began to change from the little girl who used to play with her 10-year-old son, Mikey.

"You would see her walking down the street with her cell phone and little shorts on. (She) just changed. I don't know if Nancy could control it," Jackson said.

September was the last time Jackson spoke at length with Nancy Broadhead, who was going through financial trouble. On Dec. 22, the first foreclosure notice was sent to her home.

"She wanted us to go to Peace River to go on a fossil dig. She loved the beach. She loved the water," Jackson said. "I know Nancy loved her daughter. No matter what Nancy's problems are, she had a strong family."

Court records paint a more complex picture.

In 2005, Broadhead was arrested for child abuse and domestic battery against her daughter, according to information released Wednesday by the Pinellas-Pasco state attorney.

Broadhead and her daughter, then 7, got into an argument, authorities said, because the mother wanted her daughter to go to bed, but the daughter refused.

The mother was intoxicated, authorities said, and began beating her daughter with an open hand.

The state dropped the case for several reasons: lack of witnesses, the girl's disciplinary history and lack of credibility, and the mother's cooperation with the state Department of Children and Families.

A DCF report said the girl "tends to parrot what others say and lie."

•••

It took a DNA test to prove for sure who the girl's dad was. She was born in 1998. The final determination didn't come until June 2001. A man named William J. Forsman was her father.

Forsman was imprisoned from August 2005 to September 2006 in Georgia. He went back to prison in February 2008 until Dec. 5, convicted of criminal interference of government property and obstruction of a law enforcement officer, Georgia records show. He could not be located Wednesday.

The girl's mother had troubles of her own.

Nancy Broadhead had trouble with alcohol that cost her unsupervised visitation with a son in 1993. A court ordered that another person had to be present when she visited the son, and she was barred from having any alcohol within three hours of a visit.

• • •

After eight years of calls to her house, mostly domestic disputes between her daughter, son and ex-husband, Mastrangelo said the police were tired of hearing about her family.

She didn't trust them.

The day before her son was arrested, Mastrangelo overheard him on the phone with his girlfriend. They had been together for two months. She thought the girl, who she never met, was the same age as her son.

"No, you can't do that, you won't do that, don't do that," she recalled her son saying.

"What are you talking about?" his mom asked him.

"Nothing, Mom," he said. "(My girlfriend) and her mom are fighting again."

Mastrangelo recalled the conversation after her son's arrest. She stood next to him in the cold interrogation room Wednesday.

She went up to her son and kissed him. "I love you," she said. "Don't say another word."

Times staff writers David DeCamp, Jamal Thalji and Curtis Krueger and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

'I didn't do it!' mom of 15-year-old attempted murder suspect says he tried to tell her in court 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:20pm]
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