Rose faces up to 122 months for involuntary manslaughter

District attorney wanted felony murder conviction

A jury on Friday convicted a Lawrence man of setting a deadly apartment fire in 2005 but stopped short of convicting him of first-degree murder – a verdict that the county’s top prosecutor said was “inconsistent.”

After nearly two days of deliberations, jurors found Jason Allen Rose guilty of three counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count of aggravated arson and seven counts of aggravated battery in connection with the October 2005 fire at Lawrence’s Boardwalk Apartments.

Rose, who showed no emotion when Judge Jack Murphy read the verdict, will be sentenced June 18. He faces a maximum sentence of 122 months in prison, although he will get credit for the 19 months he’s already served in custody. He’s also eligible for 15 percent off the sentence if he doesn’t have disciplinary problems in prison.

Rose had been charged with first-degree murder under the state’s “felony murder” law, which would have carried a penalty of 20 years to life in prison. To prove that charge, prosecutors didn’t have to convince jurors that Rose meant to kill anyone, just that he committed an “inherently dangerous felony” – in this case, aggravated arson – that led to the deaths of Nicole Bingham, Yolanda Riddle and Jose Gonzalez.

By convicting Rose of aggravated arson, jurors signaled that they believed he set the fire. But instead of finding him guilty of “felony murder,” they found him guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

“There’s a little bit of a fiction that’s gone on here with regard to what the law is,” District Attorney Charles Branson said in a news conference afterward.

Branson said that his office objected to Murphy giving jurors the option of convicting Rose of the lesser homicide charge.

“We achieved the most difficult charge to prove, aggravated arson, but the jury saw fit not to convict on the felony murder charge,” he said. “It is inconsistent.”

Defense attorney Ron Evans said, “I’m pretty happy. … Jason wanted an acquittal, but this is the next best thing to it.”

Nancy Bingham, mother of fire victim Nicole Bingham, said as she left the law enforcement center that she was comfortable with the jury’s decision.

“My job now is just to accept things the way they are,” she said. “The jury had to weigh all that evidence and come up with some hard decisions.”

Jurors left the law enforcement center without stopping to grant interviews.

Rose’s former pastor, the Rev. Leo Barbee of Victory Bible Church, said after the verdict that he thinks Rose is innocent.

“I think there’s too many unanswered questions,” he said. “My prayer is that the person who really did it will come forward. … I’m saddened.”