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Jury acquits Johnston of arson

Finds her guilty of criminal mischief, trespass

Posted: February 25, 2013 - 6:02pm  |  Updated: February 26, 2013 - 1:07am
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Juneau Police Department Detective Krag Campbell testifies during Ashley Johnston's trial in Juneau Superior Court on Friday. Johnston is one of the three defendants charged in connection to the fire at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park this past summer, which scorched materials being used to replace the turf football field.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Juneau Police Department Detective Krag Campbell testifies during Ashley Johnston's trial in Juneau Superior Court on Friday. Johnston is one of the three defendants charged in connection to the fire at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park this past summer, which scorched materials being used to replace the turf football field.

A jury acquitted a 19-year-old woman of arson in connection to a fire last summer at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, but found her guilty of felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor criminal trespass.

The jury deliberated about eight hours before reaching a verdict around 3:20 p.m. Monday for defendant Ashley Rae Johnston.

Johnston did not appear to react when the verdict was announced.

“They made their decision — ” Johnston began to say after walking out of the courtroom before her attorney advised her not to say anything further since she has not been sentenced yet. Johnston will be sentenced on April 8.

The maximum penalty Johnston could be facing is five years and 90 days in jail — five years for the criminal mischief conviction and 90 days for the misdemeanor conviction.

Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams, who prosecuted the case, could not be immediately reached for comment, nor could fire officials who testified as witnesses at trial then watched the rest of the proceedings from the gallery.

After the verdict was announced, Assistant Public Defender Timothy Ayer requested the judge poll the jury, who confirmed one-by-one that was their true verdict. The jury was comprised of seven men and five women. Judge Philip Pallenberg then thanked them and excused them from their service.

Johnston is one of three defendants charged with crimes in connection to the June 19 fire at the city-owned park, which caused between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of damages to equipment being used to replace the turf football field. The damaged materials, including a John Deere tractor, belonged to Shaw Sportexe, the Georgia-based company replacing the turf.

Johnston testified during the trial that she had no recollection of starting a fire since she had been drinking and took an unidentified pill. Video surveillance cameras captured her and her codefendants at the scene, but did not capture anyone setting a fire.

By finding her not guilty of third-degree arson, the jury decided the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she intentionally damaged a motor vehicle by starting a fire or causing an explosion while that vehicle is on municipal land. If she had been convicted, she could have been facing another five years in prison since it is a class ‘C’ felony.

The third-degree criminal mischief conviction was for intentionally damaging the property of Shaw Sportexe and the city in the amount of $500 or more. That’s also a ‘C’ felony.

The second-degree criminal mischief conviction was for entering and remaining unlawfully in or upon the park’s premises. That’s a class ‘B’ misdemeanor.

Johnston’s codefendants will be tried separately since their cases were severed in December.

Ryan M. Martin, 24, is slated to stand trial before the same judge on almost the same charges on April 1. (Instead of facing second-degree criminal trespass like Johnston, he’s charged with first-degree criminal trespass, which can carry up to a year in jail. He is also facing an additional misdemeanor charge for allegedly furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 years of age.)

The third defendant, Dillon P. West, 24, is only facing misdemeanor charges since a grand jury failed to indict him on any felony charges. He is also slated to stand trial on April 1, but in district court.

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

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