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Auke Bay arsonist gets 5 years

James Lee Jesperson, 55, claims he acted out of duress

Posted: January 5, 2014 - 1:05am
James Lee Jespersen, 55, appears in Juneau Superior Court on Friday for sentencing for setting fire to Brick's Marine Electronics, a marine navigation electronics store at the Don D. Statter Harbor Facilities overlooking Auke Bay in May 2012.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
James Lee Jespersen, 55, appears in Juneau Superior Court on Friday for sentencing for setting fire to Brick's Marine Electronics, a marine navigation electronics store at the Don D. Statter Harbor Facilities overlooking Auke Bay in May 2012.

A 55-year-old man was sentenced Friday to serve five years in prison for setting an Auke Bay business on fire.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg imposed seven years with two years suspended for James Lee Jespersen, plus fours years probation.

Jespersen earlier had pleaded guilty to second-degree arson for throwing a wad of lit toilet paper through the window of Brick’s Marine Electronics, a marine navigation electronics store at the Don D. Statter Harbor Facilities.

Prosecutors theorized Jespersen fire-bombed the building in May 2012 because he was angry because the business owner, Brick Lobaugh, could not or would not fix his boat’s starter, leaving it stranded in the harbor.

Jespersen, however, claimed the act was the result of his duress after a two-week long conflict with Lobaugh and one of his employees, whom Jespersen said threatened to kill him and his female companion on the boat. Jesperson said Lobaugh and the employee conspired to purposefully keep him and his boat there at the harbor so they could have access to him and his companion.

“I was in fear of my life, and I was suffering from a psychotic episode,” said Jespersen, whose attorney noted Jespersen has “long and deep-seated psychological problems.”

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, Pallenberg said he thought Jespersen was paranoid and that he did not find that scenario likely or plausible.

Regardless of the motivation behind the fire, Pallenberg emphasized it was a serious crime that could have had “catastrophic consequences,” especially since the business owner’s brother, Dale Lobaugh, was sleeping in a room attached to the business at the time. Dale Lobaugh escaped unscathed after he smelled the smoke. The fire was extinguished before it could spread by a responding police officer after the Juneau Police Department received a 911 call from a nearby resident.

The amount of damages to the building and its contents is in dispute, and prosecutors will later submit a restitution figure that Jespersen will be required to pay. The defense can contest the proposed amount.

Jespersen, originally from California and a Sitka resident before this incident, was presumptive to serve four to seven years in prison due to prior felony convictions. He was convicted of attempted murder in California in 1991 and received an eight-year prison sentence for that offense; grand theft in 1979; and felon in possession of a firearm in 2002, an offense for which he received a four-year sentence.

Attorneys disagreed over what sentence Jespersen should receive in this case, and each proposed factors that would either enhance or mitigate the sentence. Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Polasky requested six or eight years to serve, while defense attorney Andrew Weinraub of the Office of Public Advocacy requested four years.

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

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