Two men accused of setting the June fire that destroyed a self-storage building and caused more than $1 million in damage pleaded innocent today to felony arson charges in Juneau Superior Court.
Cricencio "Chris" Bagoyo III, 23, and Michael Blevins, 22, were arraigned on one count each of first-degree arson, a felony.
The charges stem from a June 2 fire at the Juneau Self-Storage unit in the Lemon Creek area. The 280-unit building burned to the ground, and more than 150 storage unit owners lost most, if not all, of the belongings stored in the building.
Bagoyo and Blevins already were in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center on unrelated charges when a Juneau grand jury indicted them for arson last week. They were awaiting further court proceedings on one charge each of second-degree burglary and second-degree theft, both felonies.
Those charges stem from an incident, also of June 2, when the men allegedly broke into Gastineau Human Services and stole $49,000 in checks, $4,000 in cash and several credit cards.
Bagoyo and Blevins also pleaded innocent to those charges at their arraignment today before Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks.
Defense attorney Philip Pallenberg - standing in for Jeff Sauer, an attorney with the Office of Public Advocacy who is representing Blevins - said he is awaiting more information on the case before he can comment.
"In the brief conversations I have had with Mr. Blevins, he continues to staunchly maintain his innocence," Pallenberg told the Empire.
Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland, who represents Bagoyo, declined to comment.
District Attorney Richard Svobodny presented the prosecution's case in an affidavit in court records.
According to the prosecution, police Officer Kris Sell said Bagoyo confessed to her that he and Blevins set the fire to cover up stealing several items from the self-storage unit.
Sell told prosecutors Bagoyo and Blevins believed the fire would destroy fingerprints left behind during the burglary. Sell was unavailable for comment today on whether the stolen items have been recovered.
Fire Marshal Randy Waters said today fire officials still don't know what started the blaze.
According to the affidavit, no one was in the storage units at the time of the fire, but firefighters were at risk battling the blaze. Svobodny said they had to attack the conflagration from the building's roof and were forced to evacuate just seconds before it caved in. He also said there was danger to firefighters of being hit by several hundred rounds of stored bullets exploding in the fire. Svobodny said the risk to people supported a charge of first-degree arson.
According to the affidavit, the two men were staying at an apartment at Gastineau Human Services, a social service agency and corrections halfway house, with another man. Sell told prosecutors the two men went back to the apartment after the fire and told their roommate they had started it, the affidavit said.
But Andy Swanston, operations director for GHS, told the Empire the men had been evicted from GHS about a week before the fire for not paying rent. They had been renting a transitional housing unit, but were not part of the corrections halfway house program and were free to leave the premises.
Around 8 p.m. the day of the fire, Swanston alleged, the two men kicked in the doors and windows to the administrative offices at GHS to steal the money, checks and credit cards.
Swanston alleged the men caused about $1,000 in damage in addition to the theft.
Blevins has at least nine known prior convictions since 1999, which include burglary, criminal mischief and theft. Bagoyo has 10 convictions since 1998, which include domestic violence assault, theft, and criminal mischief.
If convicted on all counts, Bagoyo and Blevins face up to 20 years on the arson charges and up to five years for the burglary and five years for the theft charges.
Both are being held at the state prison on $50,000 bail.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE 07-09-09: An erroneous prior conviction has been corrected.