After hearing two days of testimony, a jury determined that a Farmington man did set a building in his apartment complex on fire back in March of 2013.
After deliberating about 40 minutes, a St. Francois County found Dennis Ray Nash, 54, of Farmington, guilty of first-degree arson and first-degree property damage. The two-day jury trial was held Thursday and Friday and sentencing is now scheduled for Nov. 5.
He is charged as a prior and persistent offender due to two previous convictions of DWI. The case was prosecuted by Special Prosecutor Carl Kinsky.
According to court records and testimony, an off-duty Farmington police officer was driving past the Deer Run Apartments located at located at 21 St. Francois Drive in Farmington at 7:56 p.m. March 12, 2013, and saw flames coming from a downstairs apartment. He alerted authorities and then evacuated residents in the building.
The fire was contained to the one apartment and the renter was not home when firefighters arrived. Some of the other apartments in the 12-unit building suffered minimal smoke damage but the occupants were allowed in a short time later.
The Missouri State Fire Marshal’s office determined a small blaze at the Deer Park Apartments was an “incendiary,” or set, fire. They found two separate and unconnected areas on fire in the exterior and interior of an apartment. Near the origins of the fire was a strong smell of cologne. The screen in a sliding glass window had been cut.
When fire officials spoke with the occupant of the burned apartment, they were told he suspected Nash, his estranged wife’s ex-boyfriend, who had been making threats to his wife for several days. Nash had just moved into the apartment complex a few months prior.
His wife had saved the voice mails Nash had left her. She felt one had threatened her husband’s home.
A Bonne Terre police officer testified about a 911 call made the day before where a man now believed to be Nash asked police to check the well-being of the woman. He claimed to be the woman’s husband. When the officer arrived, the woman appeared to be fine and he was able to determine that the husband, who was at her home at the time, did not make the call. The officer talked to Nash and warned him not to contact the man or woman and not to make false reports to 911. He said Nash sounded a little intoxicated and said he would not stop calling.
Also testifying at the trial was the apartment building maintenance worker, who lived in the complex. He discovered and called in the fire two minutes after the off-duty police officer. He told authorities he had seen Nash walk around the back side of the apartment about an hour before the fire. He said the man walked back about five minutes later.
When the fire marshal went to question Nash at the time of the fire, they found two bottles of cologne in plain view and a folding utility knife which was open in a locked blade position. Police later found a bottle of cologne on him when they arrived at the police department. He said he had it because he wanted to smell good. He denied setting the fire.
Nash initially told authorities he had been at the library all night. He then said he walked to a nearby liquor store a couple times before returning home.
Surveillance at the liquor store shows Nash was there once. He shoplifted items and then paid for a pack of cigarettes and beer. Records show he also used the business’ phone to call the woman Bonne Terre Police had told him not to call.
The owner of the building said she had just driven by the complex 20 minutes before she got the call about the fire. She said she had noticed someone walking “too close” to that apartment and regrets not turning back to investigate.
The fire destroyed 90 percent of the occupant’s belongings. He could not give an estimate on the dollar amount. The owner of the apartment complex said the fire did about $20,000 worth of damage to the building.
Fire Chief Todd Mecey said if the fire would have had 40 more minutes or so, it would have gone through the firewall and could have been deadly to the other residents. However, in this case, the fire did not get beyond the firewall.
A fire investigator consultant was the only witness to testify for the defense. He said there was no scientific evidence and no fire patterns indicating an ignitable liquid was present at the fire scene. However, he did say that the cause of the fire was probably arson.