MADERA COUNTY – Two Yosemite Lakes Park residents were back in court on Friday for bail review and to have a date set for their preliminary hearing.
Their attorneys also argued to have their case heard in Sierra Superior Court in Bass Lake rather than in Madera.
Kenneth Jackson and Alice Waterman were both arrested after a fire behind their house on East Revis Circle on June 25.
It was the seventh fire in the vicinity of their home at the end of the cul-de-sac, and one of dozens of suspicious fires in the YLP area throughout May and June.
After weeks of intensive investigation by Cal Fire and other agencies, both suspects were taken into custody and charged with arson and conspiracy, and are currently being held in the Madera County Jail.
On Friday, July 19, the parties presented arguments before Judge Rigby in Madera Superior Court concerning the venue for the hearings and upcoming trial.
Attorney Greg Gross, representing Alice Waterman, argued that the District Attorney’s office has changed the venue for the trial to Madera in order to make it difficult and expensive for the defendant’s witnesses to attend.
“General practices dictate that since the alleged crimes occurred in the Coarsegold/Oakhurst area, the proper venue for the proceedings would be the Sierra Superior Court in Bass Lake,” argued Gross.
“The People have the right to file their case wherever they want, but once it’s filed, they can’t change the venue by amending,” he said. “This case was properly filed in the Sierra Court. There is nothing to justify why this should deviate from the general rule other than to make the presentation of my client’s defense as inconvenient as possible.”
Gross told the court that while the prosecution’s case would involve witnesses who are working on the taxpayer’s dollar, the witnesses for Ms. Waterman would be coming to court at their own expense and on their own time.
“My client in all likelihood is going to have character witnesses at her hearing,” said Gross. “Those witnesses are not taxpayer funded employees like those for the prosecution. I think it’s rather transparent that this is all being done to inconvenience the defense witnesses and prejudice my client.”
The prosecution argued that this is not a case of a change of venue, but rather was a clerical error in filing it as a Sierra Court case instead of Madera, and that the issue was already ruled on by the court at Jackson’s arraignment.
“We brought the filing error to the court’s attention immediately during Jackson’s arraignment, and the judge ruled that the matter would be heard in Madera as opposed to Bass Lake,” said District Attorney Michael Keitz.
“Just because the case occurred in Yosemite Lakes Park doesn’t always mean it will automatically go to the Sierra Court,” said Keitz. “There are times we don’t file cases there because we need the resources of the main office in Madera to support the case.”
The judge noted that when Mr. Jackson first came before the court, the issue of the mistake in filing was raised, and there was no objection from the defense, “so I find that the motion to undo what the court has already done is denied,” ruled Judge Rigby.
The judge also noted that it was dismissed “without prejudice,” allowing the defense to file a motion addressing witness expenses and distance of travel if they so choose.
The case was then sent over to Judge Blea in Department 2 for a preliminary hearing date to be set and to review bail. The preliminary hearing was set for Monday, Sept. 9, at 9:30 a.m., in Department. 2, and both parties expect it to be a lengthy process, lasting several days.
When the issue of bail then came before the court, Judge Blea said Waterman’s bail was set appropriately at $500,000.
However, after examining the documents and considering the more than 30 charges against Mr. Jackson, the judge decided that his bail amount was not sufficient, and raised it to $1 million.