MADERA COUNTY – A Coarsegold couple was back in court yesterday for their preliminary hearing on charges of arson and conspiracy.
Kenneth Jackson, 40, and Allison Waterman, 46, both of Yosemite Lakes Park, were arrested on June 25 in connection with a string of suspicious fires in the Coarsegold/YLP area.
Jackson and Waterman are being tried together in Madera County Superior Court.
Before the hearing could begin on Monday, Sept. 9, the court first addressed the issue of the defendants’ right to have their preliminary hearing carried out in continuous sessions.
Judge Dale Blea related that the court calendar and the availability of the attorneys would not allow the hearing to proceed in one continuous session over several days, until perhaps November.
Craig Collins, attorney for Jackson, argued that the date for this hearing had been set back in July and that other trials should not have been scheduled to interfere with his client’s right to continuous sessions in the preliminary hearing.
“This is a big case,” he said. “It can’t be done in one day, and now there is another case scheduled for this court tomorrow.”
Collins stated that now his client was left with no choice but to waive his rights, or wait in jail another two months until continuous sessions could be accommodated on the court calendar.
Greg Gross, representing Waterman in the matter, said that his client was sitting in jail after being bailed out shortly after her arrest.
“As soon as it showed up on the news, they re-arrested her on nine additional charges,” said Gross.
After about an hour of debate and a review of the transcript from their July 2 hearing where both defendants waived their right to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of arraignment, both Jackson and Waterman also waived their rights in the matter of a continuous session and the hearing proceeded, getting underway at about 3 p.m.
Tim McCann, Fire Captain assigned to the Cal Fire Prevention Bureau took the stand to testify about his findings in investigating a series of fires in May and June of this year in the Coarsegold/YLP area.
McCann explained the process for investigating a fire and the steps taken to determine cause and origin, plus the process of eliminating all other accidental or natural causes, leaving only an intentionally set fire.
He testified that two fires that had initially been thought to be accidental, were later determined to be of suspicious origin.
A fire behind a house on Revis Road turned up parts of aluminum arrows scattered up the hillside. Investigators thought it may have been started by metal striking rock, but after talking with the homeowner, it was learned that he hadn’t practiced shooting in several months. Due to the process of elimination of all other causes, and the location behind a house, it was determined that the fire was intentionally set.
Another fire on John Muir Drive at first appeared to have been started by a catalytic converter when a piece was found along the road. However, upon further investigation, it was determined that the piece was old, was “protected under one side,” and that if indeed it came out of a vehicle at the start of this incident, it would have been heated to about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, and would have been burnt all around.
McCann is the first of several prosecution witnesses scheduled, and the testimony will continue on Thursday, Sept 12, at 2 p.m., in Department 2 at the Madera County Courthouse.
The defense indicated that they do not intend to call any witnesses during the preliminary hearing, which is expected to take 3 to 4 days, and will be scheduled as the court and the attorneys are available.
The preliminary hearing is the process where the district attorney’s office presents witnesses and lays out their case against the accused. If the judge determines that there is significant evidence to show that a crime has been committed, the defendants will then be “held to answer” on the charges and bound over for trial. If the judge decides that there is insufficient evidence, he can dismiss some or all of the charges.
Both defendants remain behind bars with Waterman’s bail set at $500,000, and Jackson’s at $1,000,000.