Archive for Sunday, September 12, 2004

Unreliable witness causes dismissal of arson charges

2003 fire at K.C. lumberyard caused millions in damages

September 12, 2004

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— Prosecutors have dropped charges against three people accused in a lumberyard fire that caused millions of dollars in damages last year.

The charges were dismissed Friday because prosecutors decided a main witness was no longer reliable.

Mary J. Linder, 18, of North Kansas City, and Rocky S. McLaury, 20, and David Strobl, 24, both of Gladstone, had been charged with second-degree arson in the Oct. 12, 2003, fire at Schutte Lumber Co. in Kansas City.

They had all been on home detention monitoring, prosecutors said.

Jason Jenkins, 20, of North Kansas City, had been the prosecution's main witness. But he could too easily be attacked at trial because he was a convicted co-defendant who had shifted his testimony in recent weeks and had an unrelated child-sex conviction, said Dawn Parsons, a chief trial assistant in the prosecutor's office.

"His testimony is becoming unreliable," she said. "We don't have enough evidence to get us beyond a reasonable doubt."

Jenkins pleaded guilty earlier this year to second-degree arson for his role in the fire. He also pleaded guilty to attempted statutory sodomy involving an 11-month-old child. He is awaiting sentencing on both charges.

Schutte owner Dan Fuhrman said he was disappointed the charges were dismissed, but he got some satisfaction because the defendants served several months in jail after they were charged last November.

The fire destroyed 80 percent of the 13-acre lumberyard, buildings and sheds, and two tractor-trailers. So far, it has cost about $8 million to replace lumber and buildings destroyed by the fire, and the work is not finished, Fuhrman said.

The Schutte fire was one of three arsons at area lumberyards within weeks, but police found no evidence that the fires were connected.

Parsons said that the statute of limitations does not expire for two more years in the Schutte fire, meaning charges could be refiled if more evidence is found.

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