Lake Christine fire suspects plead not guilty; arson trials set for May and June
EAGLE — The pair accused of sparking the Lake Christine fire pleaded not guilty Wednesday and will take their chances at trial.
Richard Miller and Allison Marcus made their first court appearance before District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman where they entered their not guilty pleas.
Miller’s trial is scheduled for May 28 to June 7; Marcus for June 17 to 28.
Attorneys differed on whether a jury should hear the two cases at the same. Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum and Miller’s attorney Josh Maximon said they should. Marcus attorney Stan Garnett disagreed, saying he would like Marcus to be tried separately.
They’ll sort out that and other issues during a March 15 motions hearing, Dunkelman said.
The case itself won’t take two weeks but jury selection is expected to take longer than usual. Finding Eagle County jurors who have no connection with the case could be difficult, McCollum said.
Garnett and Maximon said they anticipate defense testimony for the Marcus trial won’t take more than one day.
The March 15 motions hearing is expected to take a half day, attorneys said.
The Colorado’s attorney general could be asked to help interpret some aspects of Colorado’s law that Garnett contended could be unconstitutional.
Garnett said they’re also expecting to ask that some evidence collected at the scene be excluded, along with conversations with law enforcement. They’ll also discuss how fire bans are interpreted, Garnett said.
Miller and Marcus could still enter a different plea after the motions hearing, Dunkelman ruled Wednesday morning. They’ll discuss that on March 15, along with possible restitution for damages caused by the fire.
“Restitution is a huge issue in the case,” Dunkelman said.
The fire burned more than 12,500 acres on state, federal and private lands and it destroyed three houses.
During Wednesday morning’s hearing, both Marcus and Miller silently stood behind the defense table, letting their attorneys do all the talking.
Marcus and Miller were allegedly at the shooting range near Basalt, firing tracer rounds shortly before 6 p.m. on July 3. The public range was open despite fire restrictions banning everything from charcoal grill fires to outdoor smoking. However, firing tracer ammunition is always banned, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which owns and operates the shooting range.
Marcus told the authorities that she “caused it and was sorry. Marcus said she called into 911 to report the fire,” the affidavit says.
Marcus said she had been shooting a rifle, while Miller said he was firing a shotgun.
Miller and Marcus, both 23, each face three charges of fourth-degree arson, a Class 4 felony, and setting fire to woods or prairie, a Class 6 felony. Miller and Marcus are on a $7,500 bond each.
Craig Miller, Richard’s father, isn’t facing charges directly related to the fire. Instead, he was arrested for his alleged conduct when Eagle County deputies received an anonymous tip July 14 that his son and Marcus were at his home in Missouri Heights.