As they left the courtroom after a briefing hearing, the family of 16-year-old Richard Thomas said Thomas is not a "hateful person," as the charges against him might indicate.
"He's a very good kid, very good kid," one family member said. "He was just joking around that's all."
A junior at Oakland High School, Thomas is charged as an adult with felony assault and mayhem with hate crime enhancements to both charges.
"That means if you get convicted of the underlying crime and you get convicted of it as a hate crime, then not only will you get the sentence for the underlying crime, whatever that is, but then you're going to get more time because it's a hate crime," criminal defense attorney Michael Cardoza said.
Thomas allegedly lit Fleischman on fire while Fleischman was asleep on the bus Monday afternoon. Fleischman was wearing a skirt; the victim's parents say the 18-year-old does not identify as either male or female.
In the criminal complaint, the officer interviewing Thomas said, "During the suspect interview, the suspect stated he did it because he was homophobic."
She did not want to appear on camera, but Thomas' mother told ABC7 News, "I am very sorry for my son's actions. I did not raise him that way. My son is not a hateful person. He's a kid. Kids joke around."
Thomas will be back in court next week to enter a plea.