MADERA COUNTY – As if to prove the old adage that the wheels of justice grind slowly, the preliminary hearing for a Coarsegold couple accused of arson, scheduled for today in Madera County Superior Court, was continued once again.
Kenneth Jackson and Allison Waterman were arrested as a fire started near their home on June 25, and charged with dozens of counts of arson and conspiracy in connection with a string of suspicious fires in the Yosemite Lakes Park area.
Jackson has been behind bars since his arrest on a $1 million bond, and Waterman, who bailed out on June 26, was re-arrested on June 29 and is being held on $500,000 bond.
After waiving their rights to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of arraignment, there have been numerous delays and scheduling issues in Department 2.
Today, as everyone gathered before Judge Dale Blea to hear continued testimony from Cal Fire investigators, it was learned that Deputy District Attorney John Thackeray, who is prosecuting the case, had suffered a death in the family, and was not able to be in court.
Defense attorneys for both defendants voiced their displeasure over the continued delays and objected to yet another continuance.
“We anticipate that one officer [witness] will tie everything together from the various reports,” said Greg Gross, representing Waterman. “It should only take a few hours for another prosecutor to get up to speed. It’s not that involved.”
He also asked the judge to release Waterman on her own recognizance, given the length of time she has been incarcerated without much movement on the case.
“I understand Mr. Thackeray’s situation, but my client has been sitting in custody for three months without a preliminary hearing,” said Gross. The motion for release was denied.
Martin Jones, one of the attorneys representing Jackson, also objected to the delay, citing Penal Code 861 which states that the preliminary examination shall be completed within 10 court days and shall be continuous, unless the defendant waives their rights. Both have done so in this case.
“With or without a waiver, we’re past 10 days since this began,” said Jones.
Both attorneys for the defense then stated that they were withdrawing their client’s waivers, with Jones asserting that his client’s waiver was made involuntarily.
Craig Collins, another of Jackson’s attorneys, was vehement in his objection to another delay, stating that the judge could read through all of the 4-inch binders prepared by the prosecution, and find no evidence.
“You can talk to anyone on this planet and you’re not going to find any evidence,” said Collins.
After hearing from both sides, Judge Blea found that there was good cause for a continuance.
“In making a judgment here, the court needs to consider the rights of the defendants and the People,” he said. “With 31 counts, this is not the kind of matter you plug an attorney into. It would not be appropriate with the detail and complexity of this matter.”
The judge vacated today’s hearing and set the next date for Monday, Sept. 30. He also allowed for a tentative date of Friday Sept. 27, at 1:30 p.m., if the court calendar could be adjusted to accommodate it by moving cases to another department, or in the event that some cases set for trial were settled in the meantime.