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Arson Trial Starts This Week

MADERA COUNTY – The trial of a Coarsegold couple charged with 31 counts of arson will get underway this week in Madera Superior Court.

Kenneth Jackson, 40, and Alice Waterman, 46, both of Yosemite Lakes Park, have been in custody since late June, when they were arrested after a rash of suspicious fires in the Coarsegold/YLP area.

Waterman was in court on Friday, Dec. 13, for a hearing before Judge Ernest LiCalsi in Department 3 on a 995 motion. Her attorney Greg Gross petitioned the court to dismiss the 10 charges of arson and 1 count of conspiracy against his client, arguing that there was not probable cause to show that one person set all 10 of the fires with which she is charged.

The judge denied the motion, ruling that there was sufficient evidence to justify the holding order, and that he couldn’t see how two people charged with setting all these fires, while living in the same house, could not have been in on a conspiracy.

The proceedings then moved over to Department 2 for a status conference, where Judge Dale Blea and attorneys for both sides discussed the logistics of the upcoming trial.

Judge Blea presided over the preliminary hearing which lasted for eight weeks, and ordered both defendants held to answer on all the charges, including 10 additional charges added to the indictment against Jackson.

With the trial expected to last anywhere from three to six months, finding jurors who would not face a hardship serving for such a long time may be a challenge. Judge Blea said they will seat eight alternate jurors in anticipation of any attrition on the panel as the trial goes on.

Waterman’s attorney Greg Gross told the judge that he still has not received some of the discovery requested from the prosecution. While he told the court that he is prepared to adequately defend the case, he may be filing a Motion to Compel if the information is not forthcoming.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Sally Moreno asked that Gross submit his request in writing, and her office would make everything available by Monday, Dec. 16.

Jackson’s attorney Craig Collins said that a sample of his client’s DNA had been taken, and that he has not been told why, or what it is being compared with.

Moreno told the court that her office has submitted cigarette butts found at the scene of various fires to the Department of Justice for DNA testing, and they are awaiting results, which will be made available to the defense when they are received.

As to the issue of Jackson’s bail and pre-trial release, Judge Blea said that after reviewing the evaluation from the Probation Department, he saw nothing in it that would lead him to believe that it would be appropriate to change the bail amount.

“Due to the nature of the charges, bail remains as set,” the judge ruled. In additon to the arson charges, Jackson has been charged with conspiracy, resisting arrest and assault on a peace officer.

The trial confirmation will take place on Monday, Dec. 16, and jury selection will begin on Tuesday.

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