Extension granted for suspected arsonist

A Sitka man charged with arson will have until July 20 to decide whether to use insanity or mental illness as his defense at his upcoming trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg granted the extension during an omnibus hearing for James L. Jespersen, 53, who is accused of fire-bombing a Juneau business on May 30.

Alaska statutes require defendants to notify the court if they plan on raising insanity as an affirmative defense within 10 days of entering a plea, unless the court finds good cause to extend that time frame. The same rules apply if a defendant wishes to show evidence of a mental disease or defect that tends to negate a culpable mental state.

Pallenberg noted in court he understands that it’s not always possible to make that determination within 10 days.

Jespersen has Lyme Disease and a history of mental illness, according to public defender Eric Hedland.

Jespersen was indicted last month for first-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief, both felonies, in connection to a fire at Brick’s Marine Electronics store on Auke Bay Harbor Road.

Prosecutors allege Jespersen fire-bombed the store after the store owner didn’t fix Jespersen’s boat when it wouldn’t start.

Jespersen sent a letter to the Empire from jail specifying that he has Stage III Lyme Disease, a tick-borne disease. He wrote that a two-week long conflict with a store employee aggravated the systems of the disease, which led him to double the prescribed dose of his medication.

Jespersen was travelling with his partner aboard the F.V. Silver Surf when the boat’s electronic navigational devices stopped working. They completed their voyage and docked in Auke Bay for repairs before attempting Chatham Strait to Aurora Harbor, he said.

He added that the conflict with a Brick’s Marine Electronics store employee forced both he and his partner to seek restraining orders. Court records show that Jespersen filed for both a petition for an ex parte sexual assault protective order and a petition for a long term stalking protective order on May 21, just a few days before the fire. Juneau District Court Judge Thomas Nave denied both the petitions, records show. The case was closed out the same day it was filed.

The name of his partner is unknown and it could not be verified through court records if she applied for a restraining order.

Business owner Brick Lobaugh previously told the Empire that he and his brother tried to help Jespersen by charging his boat’s battery, even though Jespersen didn’t have any money to pay for services. His brother was sleeping in a bunk attached to the back of the shop at the time of the midnight fire, but he was able to escape without injury when he smelled the smoke.

Jespersen’s trial is still scheduled for Aug. 20, although Hedland said that was probably unrealistic. He said he may ask the court to push that date back if he and his client file a notice of intent to rely on the insanity defense or competency to stand trial issues.

Jespersen remains in custody in lieu of $500,000 cash bail. He is next scheduled to appear in court in early August for a pretrial hearing.

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

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