Arson jury to decide who is lying

Public defender calls witness an 'idiot,' says his more credible

Posted: Thursday, April 07, 2005

The big question facing the jury for the man accused of setting DeHart's Marina ablaze in September may be, "Who's lying?"

Jurors were scheduled to resume deliberating this morning in the case of Rickey Gottardi, 45, who is charged with arson and criminal damage, both in the first-degree, and misdemeanor oil pollution in the Sept. 21 fire in Auke Bay. They got the case at about 1 p.m. Wednesday and went home for the night about four hours later.

After resting their cases Wednesday, attorneys reminded jurors that two prosecution witnesses have criminal records and five of the six defense witnesses have spent time at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center this year.

Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner on Tuesday called two witnesses who described Gottardi's actions and statements before and after the fire. James Christopher Maher, who lived on Gottardi's boat in Auke Bay, said that after Gottardi left with a propane torch, he returned smelling of diesel, saying, "Look out the window, bro."

Wednesday, Assistant Public Advocate Steven Wells said during his closing arguments that his witnesses were more believable. "This is just an idiot," he said of Maher.

At times Wednesday, testimony from Wells' witnesses was still more denigrating of the character of Maher and the prosecution's other witness, Dan Rasmussen.

Leonard Huggins Jr. testified that he didn't know Gottardi or Maher, but he knew Rasmussen. Rasmussen had said he and Maher had set up someone to take the blame for the fire to collect the reward and get his boat, Huggins said. He also said Rasmussen said he was concerned because he was partnered with "a retard."

"Who's the retard?" Gardner asked on cross-examination.

"I believe it was Maher," Huggins answered.

Defense witness Marc Maki said Maher was showing "a big wad of cash" after the fire, saying he had framed Gottardi and got a reward.

Ryan Lynch said Rasmussen had told him he and Maher started the fire.

Stephen Albright said he was the person nicknamed "Rob," with whom Gottardi told police he visited that night. He testified that Maher wasn't even on the boat the night of the fire.

Christopher Baker, whose name Maher initially used when he talked to police, said that before the fire when he asked Maher about doing something to earn money, Maher suggested "boosting Freddy's" - shoplifting from Fred Meyer - or a scam to set up Gottardi and collect reward money. "He tried to get me to start the fire."

In his closing, Gardner referred to the defense witnesses as "birds of a feather," noting that four currently reside at the state prison, where Gottardi has been lodged since September, and another was released in February. Under cross examination, Lynch said he shared a room with Gottardi.

Gardner said there was no reward, but Wells said it only mattered that Maher and Rasmussen thought there would be financial gain.

He also questioned how his client could have cut the marina fuel lines and lit them with a torch, as alleged. Gardner climbed on the prosecutors' table and reached below it to demonstrate the difficulty.

Gardner said Maher and Rasmussen showed courage to come forward with what they knew, considering the code in the world where they lived.

"Mr. Gottardi walked the dock and he haunted these guys," he said. After calling Albright a liar, he pointed at Gottardi. "That man right there, that man gave them the evil eye."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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