Teacher pleads not guilty in chloroform abuse case

A Central California high school chemistry teacher accused of giving chloroform to students and making nitroglycerin in her classroom pleaded not guilty Wednesday.

Japhia Smith Huhndorf made her plea by remote video in Merced County Superior Court from the county jail, where she is being held on one count of possession of a destructive device and five counts of felony child abuse.

Visiting Judge John Griffin denied defense attorney Ernest Tuttle's request to reduce her $500,000 bond to $50,000.

The second-year Livingston High School teacher allegedly gave the anesthetic to three students, who all were under the age of 18 at the time. Livingston police are unclear about Huhndorf's motive, but a spokesman said investigators are looking into all angles, including sex.

"That's where our minds went and that's what we are looking deeply into," said Sgt. Ray Fong.

No other students have come forward with complaints against the teacher.

"It will be interesting to see, as time goes by, whether more people come forward or not," said John Goold, Merced County's chief deputy district attorney.

Huhndorf was free on bond last week after Livingston police arrested her for giving the students chloroform, an anesthetic that can produce euphoria, knock people out and even cause death.

After interviewing the students, however, police learned she might have made the potentially unstable explosive nitroglycerin. She was re-arrested while the school was evacuated and the county bomb squad detonated the yellow liquid. Police don't know of a motive.