“I got this one beat, boy!”
That’s what Roger “Bucky” Stratton boasted upon exiting the district court house Tuesday afternoon following a 3½ hour motions hearing. His attorney, public defender Amy Smith, was not present for her client’s braggadocios.
Stratton, 54, faces a single charge of fourth degree arson, a class four felony, for a fire that he allegedly caused on his property near Dolores on Oct. 24, 2012. A jury trial is slated to start Aug. 19. If convicted, Stratton faces a six-year prison sentence.
During the proceedings, District Court Judge Todd Plewe heard testimony from Montezuma County Sheriff’s Det. Adam Eastman, the prosecution’s chief witness in the case.
On direct examination by District Attorney Will Furse, Eastman testified that he responded to Stratton’s house on the day in question to find a large amount of smoke emitting from charred trees and cattails on Stratton’s property. During his investigation, Eastman said he concluded the blaze that burned 400-acres originated inside a burn pit behind Stratton’s home.
In sworn testimony, Eastman said Stratton admitted that he had placed coals from his fireplace in the burn pit the previous day, and wind gusts reignited the embers.
“(Stratton) said he attempted to put the fire out himself,” Eastman testified. “He said he attempted to build a fire break by cutting down some vegetation. I couldn’t confirm that with what I saw.”
An arson expert trained in the origin and cause of fire, Eastman said Stratton denied starting the blaze, claiming it was a “dumbass mistake” that he “recklessly, but not knowingly” made.
On cross-examination by Smith, Eastman admitted that statements from eyewitness Lonnie Huff that led to Stratton’s arrest did not provide authorities a physical description of the defendant, nor did Huff’s written statement, filed six days after the fire, mesh with the initial statements he made to authorities on the day in question.
“It’s our argument that (Huff’s) information is completely irrelevant as to determining probable cause,” Smith said during closing arguments. “There’s no connection to Mr. Stratton based on what (Huff) saw.”
Testimony was heard as part of a motions hearing, which included a gag order request by Smith that Plewe rejected. Other motions still under consideration by Plewe involve the defendant’s Miranda warning rights, search and privacy issues and the validity of the arrest warrant.
Estimated damages from the fire, which caused the evacuation of 30 residences, could total up to $250,000, officials said.