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Guilty plea to criminally negligent burning, trespass

Judge sentences Timothy D. James to 14 months in prison

Posted: April 24, 2012 - 11:07pm
Timothy D. James enters Judge Philip Pallenberg's courtroom for a change of plea on arson charges in Juneau Superior Court on Tuesday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Timothy D. James enters Judge Philip Pallenberg's courtroom for a change of plea on arson charges in Juneau Superior Court on Tuesday.

A Juneau man was sentenced to serve 14 months in prison for breaking an expensive decorative Native paddle and for negligent burning.

Judge Philip Pallenberg imposed the sentence for Timothy D. James, 26, on Tuesday in Juneau Superior Court.

James on Tuesday agreed to plead guilty to two reduced misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and criminally negligent burning. He was originally indicted by a grand jury last fall with four felonies — burglary, theft, arson and criminal mischief.

A plea agreement reached with prosecutors dismissed two of those other charges.

James was sentenced to serve a year in jail for the negligent burning conviction, and 12 months in jail with 10 months suspended for the trespass conviction.

He was also ordered to serve five years of supervised probation after his release, to pay full restitution in an amount to be determined at a later date, to have no contact with the paddle’s owner or her residence, and to obtain both a mental health and alcohol abuse assessment and treatment, if recommended.

According to an affidavit filed by District Attorney David Brower, police received a report in July that an intoxicated man, later identified as James, was carrying a broken paddle and was “tearing stuff apart” at the Riveredge Park Condominiums in the Lemon Creek area.

When officers approached James, he yelled incoherent things about Vietnam, Jack Nicholson with a Tommy gun and imploding the universe, the affidavit states.

Witnesses that were interviewed said they saw James going into one of the condos and breaking the door on the way out. The owner of the condo said she didn’t know James, and he had no right to be in her home.

The condo owner said the paddle belonged to her and it was a gift from a Native artist valued at more than $1,000 by a local art dealer.

While dealing with James on scene, officers noticed a fire and smoke coming out of an apartment, which was later found to be James’ apartment, according to the affidavit. A tenant was in the building and was unaware of the fire until officers alerted him, the affidavit states.

Brower suggested Tuesday that James may have set his own apartment on fire, and that James had gasoline in his apartment.

“Mr. James was not there at the time, but someone had indicated they saw him throw a gas can toward a dumpster, and that was found, and the investigation found that he negligently started a fire,” Brower said.

When given the opportunity to speak, the only thing James told the judge was, “I don’t own any gas cans. That’s all I have to say.”

After the hearing was finished, James’ attorney Grace Lee said her client doesn’t know how the fire was started.

Pallenberg, who heard the case for Judge Louis Menendez who is out of town this week, said on Tuesday there was a previous finding by the court that James was competent to enter a plea.

A district court judge previously ordered James in late July to undergo a psychiatric exam to be tested for mental competency and mental culpability.

The doctors who testified before the court on that issue found James to be both competent and culpable, though he did appear to have some mental health issues, possibly schizoaffective disorder. One doctor testified James told him during an interview the U.S. Marine Corps had removed a portion of his brain, according to court notes.

Court records indicate James had previously been committed to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage on one prior occasion back in 2007.

Before imposing the sentence, Pallenberg said the court found James to be competent, “but there are plainly mental health issues involved in the offense.”

Pallenberg said James only has one prior conviction, fourth-degree assault, which is an indication he doesn’t present a high level of danger to the community.

Pallenberg told James it looks as if his mental health condition has already improved since he’s been receiving treatment in custody.

“I think that your ability to be successful is going to depend on you staying on top of your mental health situation,” Pallenberg said.

In order to prove first-degree arson, which is one of the charges James initially faced, the state would have to show James “intentionally” damaged property by starting a fire or caused an explosion, and thereby recklessly placed another person in danger of serious physical injury, according to the indictment.

In comparison, in order to prove criminal negligent burning, the state only has to find a person damaged property by fire or explosion with criminal negligence.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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