A 20-year-old arsonist could see a potential $1.7 million restitution order slashed by more than half.
In a stipulated agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys, James Alexander, convicted in the 2013 Family Dollar Store fire, would pay a total of $750,000 in restitution. The original reimbursement submitted by District Attorney Will Furse totaled $1.7 million.
At a 15-minute hearing on Thursday, July 17, Furse told Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker that the $750,000 deal would satisfy all losses incurred by local victims. He said out-of-town insurance companies with outstanding expenditures could file for civil damages, arguing the agreement would serve to entice Alexander to make financial amends.
“Mr. Alexander has a huge amount of money to pay,” said Furse. “We placed local victims at the top of the list to be made whole.”
Walker noted that insurance companies were also victims under the state’s criminal statutes.
“The district attorney doesn’t have the right to bargain away the victims’ rights,” he said.
Walker added whether the defendant was on the hook for $1.7 million or $750,000, Alexander would likely face a lifetime challenge to pay the balance.
Defense attorney Katherine Whitney attended on behalf of Alexander’s paid attorney, Becky Briggs of Durango, who was absent from the proceedings. Whitney told Walker she hadn’t researched the legal issues in question, and was not in a position to argue the case.
Walker pondered the criminal statutes from the bench for nearly 10 minutes before deciding to take the stipulated agreement under advisement, adding he didn’t want to discriminate against the insurance companies.
“I’ll issue a written ruling,” Walker said.
In April, Alexander, 20, was ordered to 90 days of electronic home monitoring, 24 months of probation, a mental evaluation, random drug and alcohol testing and restitution.
Furse requested that Alexander receive a 45-day jail term.
According to investigators, an unknown accelerant was used at four points of origin in connection to the May 14, 2013, fire at the Cortez Plaza Shopping Center on East Main Street. Alexander had worked as an assistant manager at the Family Dollar Store for about a week before the fire.
Following sentencing, Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde responded, stating the lack of any jail time was a “slap in the face” to all the firefighters who risked their lives on the night in question. Some 30 area firefighters responded to battle the blaze. No injuries were reported.