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Arson Charges in Arizona

In a recent Arizona arson case, the defendant was convicted of arson of an occupied structure and criminal damage. He was sentenced to concurrent prison terms, and the longer term was 10.5 years.

The appellate court explained that in 2013, the victim’s neighbor called 911 due to the house next to his being on fire. The victim was a family trust, and the defendant was staying there while renovating it. The carport was involved in the fire, and a truck was destroyed.

While putting out the fire, the firefighters found other fires had been started in the house. The truck was blocking the door, and the front door was blocked, so the firefighters pushed into the house. It seemed nobody was inside, but in a second search, a firefighter saw that a bathtub full of water had a hose pushing out from the water in a nearby window. This seemed strange, so the firefighter put his hand in the black, smoky water. The defendant jumped out.

The firefighters took the defendant out. He had burns on his hand and legs but was conscious and breathing. An investigation revealed that the fires were started by a person utilizing ignitable liquid.

A grand jury indicted the defendant for arson of an occupied structure. He was convicted and sentenced. He appealed, arguing there wasn’t enough evidence to support the convictions.

The appellate court explained that arson of an occupied structure happens when somebody knowingly and illegally damages an occupied structure by knowingly causing an explosion or fire under A.R.S. § 13-1704(A). Under the statute, an occupied structure includes any object, building, vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft when one or more people either is or is likely to be near it so as to be in equivalent danger at the time the fire or explosion happens. Criminal charges are categorized based on how much damage there is. For example, when more than $10,000 in damage is incurred, it’s categorized as a class 4 felony.

On appeal, the defendant claimed the evidence was not enough to support a finding he’d started the fires alone. He noted that two neighbors had seen others nearby and hadn’t recognized the truck in the carport. He claimed it was likely somebody else started the fire, and he was trying to use a breathing tube while submerged in the bathtub until he could be rescued.

The appellate court disagreed. It found there was enough evidence from which a reasonable person could decide the defendant had perpetrated the offense. While the firefighters were putting out the fire, they found that several other fires had been started in the house after the fact. The defendant was the only person inside or who had the ability to start the fires. He had burns on his body, which an investigator found were consistent with starting a fire. Gasoline is ignitable, and the defendant smelled of gasoline. He also had a lighter with him in the bathtub. The insurance adjuster testified the cash value of the house was over $100,000, which the insurer paid to the defendant’s family trust. There was no suggestion by neighbors that others were in the house or started the fire.

The appellate court explained that even though the evidence was circumstantial, it was not insubstantial. The convictions and sentences were affirmed.

If you need an arson defense attorney in Tempe, call the Law Offices of James E. Novak at (480) 413-1499 in Tempe, Arizona.

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