Top stories of 2007: Rifle arsonist sentenced to 24 years

Heidi RiceGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE – More than two years after Rifle residents woke up on Labor Day 2005 to learn of four arson fires that were set around the city, Robin Jay Clifton of Collbran pleaded guilty to the crimes in November and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.The fires were set in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 2005, destroying the Amoco service station in the 100 block of Railroad Avenue and heavily damaging the Rifle Fireside Lanes in north Rifle. An apartment complex and a restaurant in between sustained minor damage. Damages to the buildings was estimated at more than $1.5 million.Clifton was arrested in April 2006, after police spent seven months investigating the case. Key pieces of evidence included a videotape taken from the Amoco station and a pair of special sunglasses found at the scene.Clifton was originally arrested prior to the fires for indecent exposure at the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot while sitting in a truck hauling a stolen trailer and a motorcycle, which were later impounded at the Amoco station. According to 9th Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson, Clifton started the string of arson fires to distract law enforcement while he destroyed the evidence at the Amoco station.After being held in jail for more than a year and a half on a $500,000 bond, Clifton unexpectedly agreed to a plea bargain in which he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree arson; one count each of aggravated motor vehicle theft and indecent exposure and other charges resulting in his being sentenced as a habitual criminal. In exchange for the plea bargain, several charges were dropped, including two of the arson charges, burglary and others, according to Beeson.Had the case gone to trial, it was expected to last about three weeks with 800 potential jurors being summoned. The trial was scheduled to be held in Glenwood Springs in January 2008. A motion by Clifton’s attorney for a change of venue because of publicity had been denied.The owners of the Fireside Lanes and the Amoco station rebuilt and reopened in the summer of 2006 – the Fireside Lanes in June and Amoco in August.Clifton’s criminal record dates back to 1978 with convictions ranging from robbery to drugs to prison escape.

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