Judge rules Miller’s comments can’t be used against Marcus in Lake Christine Fire trial
Richard Miller’s admission shortly after the Lake Christine fire broke out July 3 that tracer bullets were fired from a rifle at the Basalt shooting range cannot be used in a trial against his girlfriend, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman said Miller’s comments about the type of ammunition and his knowledge of a fire ban in place last July represent what Miller knew, but not necessarily what Allison Marcus knew. The comments made by Miller would be prejudicial against Marcus in her trial, the judge said.
Miller’s comments can be used in a separate trial against him, the judge ruled last Friday. Miller’s attorney, Josh Maximon, had filed a motion to suppress the comments, but it was denied.
Miller can also be called as a witness in the trial of Marcus, the judge indicated.
Miller is scheduled to go to trial May 28. Marcus is scheduled to go to trial June 17. The defendants, both 24 years of age, are facing three counts of fourth-degree arson, a Class 4 felony, and one count of setting fire to woods or prairie, a Class 6 felony. They were arrested July 22 and are free on a $7,500 bond each.
An affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for the couple and testimony in a pre-trial hearing last week showed that Miller and Marcus went to the Basalt shooting range late in the afternoon of July 3. The fire broke out behind the shooting range, and Marcus called 911 to report it, according to her comments to investigators.
Eagle County deputy sheriff Josiah Maner testified Wednesday he arrived on the scene shortly after the fire broke out and was talking to another law enforcement official when Marcus volunteered information.
“Ms. Marcus kind of approached us and said she was responsible for the fire and was extremely sorry,” Maner said.
Miller said he was shooting a shotgun with birdshot. Marcus said she was shooting a rifle that they had picked up from Miller’s father. Maner said he asked Miller what kind of rounds were being fired from the rifle and that Miller said he didn’t know.
A short time later, Maner asked Miller if he could check their equipment, including a container for ammunition. Miller replied, “Well, if I can be honest, it was tracer rounds,” according to Heidi McCollum, assistant district attorney in the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and a prosecutor in the cases.
The arrest warrant affidavit also said that Maner asked Miller if he was aware that a stage 2-fire ban was in place at that time.
“Deputy Maner asked Miller if he saw the two lighted signs (about the fire ban) on Colorado Highway 82 near Original Road, and the sign on Two Rivers Rd.,” the affidavit said. “Miller stated he did but the signs only read fires and fireworks were prohibited.”
In his testimony last week, Maner said he told Miller and Marcus it was their responsibility to know that incendiary rounds such as tracers were prohibited during the fire ban.
Knowledge of the tracer rounds and the fire ban will be a key issue at the trials. Colorado’s fourth-degree arson law says, “A person who knowingly or recklessly starts or maintains a fire or causes an explosion on his own property or that of another, and by so doing places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury or places any building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage commits fourth-degree arson.”
Marcus’ attorney, Stan Garnett, indicated in court last week he would attempt to show in trial that Marcus didn’t have the state of mind to commit the crime.
“This is the one key issue in the case: What did Ms. Marcus know? What was she aware of?” he said.
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