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Man pleads guilty to arson for setting fire at Auke Bay business

Maximum James Lee Jespersen can receive is 10 years in prison

Posted: June 20, 2013 - 8:21pm  |  Updated: June 21, 2013 - 12:10am

A Sitka resident accused of damaging a Juneau business by setting it on fire last summer has pleaded guilty to second-degree arson.

James Lee Jespersen, 54, changed his plea in Juneau Superior Court on Thursday afternoon. He could be facing a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for the felony.

Judge Philip Pallenberg ordered a pre-sentence report and scheduled the sentencing hearing for Aug. 30.

Police arrested Jespersen in May 2012 after responding to a fire at Brick’s Marine Electronics, a marine navigation electronics store at the Don D. Statter Harbor Facilities overlooking Auke Bay.

A resident in a nearby apartment complex called 911 to report the fire the night of May 30, and a responding officer extinguished the flames as the fire department arrived on scene. Police shortly afterward found Jespersen on his boat at the harbor and ID’d him as the suspect.

Prosecutors alleged in an affidavit that Jespersen fire-bombed the store because he was mad store owner Brick Lobaugh didn’t fix his boat when it wouldn’t start.

Jespersen was indicted by a Juneau grand jury for first-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief, and later in a separate indictment for second-degree arson. A plea deal reached with prosecutors dismisses the first two charges.

The attorneys did not agree what jail sentence Jespersen should serve for the admitted offense, and sentencing will be open to the court.

State prosecutors signalled Thursday they intend to argue Jespersen should be facing a six to 10 year presumptive sentencing range since he has two or more prior felony convictions.

Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said in an earlier hearing that Jespersen was convicted of attempted murder in California in 1991, grand theft in 1979 and felon in possession in 2002.

If the court finds mitigating factors, which can reduce a sentence below the presumptive range, Jespersen could be facing as little as three years in prison.

The defense, Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland, said in an earlier court hearing that his client has Lyme Disease and a history of mental illness.

Originally from San Francisco, Jespersen previously told a judge his mailing address is in Sitka, but he lives on his boat, the Silver Surf, which was docked in Auke Bay.

The plea deal Jespersen entered into was struck on the eve of his trial, which was slated to begin this week. He has been held in jail on half a million dollar bond since his arrest.

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

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