The trial of a homeless man accused of starting a fire that burned 11 homes in Ashland in August has been postponed to give his court-appointed attorney more time to mount a defense.
John David Thiry, 40, will remain behind bars until the trial, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Tim Barnack ruled on Wednesday.
"I realize you don't want your client to remain in custody," Barnack said to defense attorney Andrew Vandergaw. But Thiry "is a flight risk. He's a transient."
Barnack scheduled a pretrial hearing for Oct. 25, and a trial date to be set no later than Dec. 2.
Thiry is facing 10 counts of recklessly endangering another and 14 counts of reckless burning for allegedly starting the Aug. 24 blaze that caused more than $3 million in property damage. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His case was slated for trial today.
Vandergaw said at Wednesday's hearing that the prosecution failed to compel local investigators, including Ashland Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman, to complete their reports in a timely manner. As a result, Vandergaw received crucial evidence — reports, tapes, photographs, victim statements — just a few days ago. Vandergaw blamed the state while requesting more time to mount an adequate defense for Thiry.
"This delay lies at the feet of the state for their failure to provide discovery," Vandergaw said. "You can't wait until Friday before the trial (to turn over evidence), and wonder why the defense is not ready."
Thiry is entitled to a speedy trial under Oregon statute, Vandergaw said. And the state's failure to provide discovery in a timely fashion should not keep his client in jail, he said.
"My client ought to be released," Vandergaw said.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Pauly told Barnack that the state was ready for trial, and that she had turned over evidence promptly.
"I personally turned over discovery as soon as I got it," Pauly said. "But a district attorney cannot force an agency to turn over a report before it is completed."
Ashland Fire Chief John Karns said late Wednesday afternoon that Hickman's report was completed within eight business days from the time the department was notified of the trial.
"We wanted to do due diligence and we think that is reasonable," said Karns.
The fire was Ashland's "biggest structure fire loss in recorded time," he said. "We lost 11 homes in today's market value, which is estimated at about $300,000 each."
The fire also prompted a large-scale evacuation of the Ashland neighborhood and shut down traffic for several hours. Vandergaw voiced doubts about the 10 charges that allege Thiry recklessly endangered others, which the law defines as placing someone at substantial risk. The list of victims includes homeowners who live out of state, he said. "How do we defend if we don't know who the victims are?" said Vandergaw.
Preliminary reports said the evidence did not indicate the fire was set intentionally, which would be considered arson, a felony. Also, no injuries were reported. If someone had been injured in the fire, Thiry could have faced more felony charges.
"This is not an arson case," said Karns.
Thiry has remained lodged in the Jackson County Jail on $500,000 bail since his Aug. 25 arrest. All of his charges are misdemeanor crimes, each punishable by a maximum one year in jail.
Sanne Specht is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.