A 26-year-old Brainerd man was convicted by a jury of his peers Tuesday of felony first-degree arson in Crow Wing County District Court in connection with a June 21, 2011, house fire in southeast Brainerd.
Judge Eric J. Askegaard set the sentencing date for July 17 for defendant Ronnie Jerome Jackson III. The penalty for first-degree arson carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Jackson:
• Brainerd officers were dispatched at 4 a.m. June 21, 2011, to a house fire at 711 S.E. 13th St, Brainerd. The fire was located on the north side of the residence on the deck and was proceeding up outside the residence. The resident, Chad Holmes, and a neighbor were attempting to put the fire out with extinguishers.
• A Brainerd Police sergeant spoke with Holmes, who stated that he was asleep when he was awakened by someone banging on his door yelling to him that his house was on fire. Holmes indicated that no one else was in the residence.
• The Brainerd Fire Department arrived and began to extinguish the fire. The sergeant had been past the residence approximately 30 minutes prior to the house fire call looking for Jackson’s vehicle and did not detect any signs of a fire. The sergeant and another officer had gone down to Lazy Acres Trailer Park when they didn’t located Jackson’s vehicle at Holmes’ residence. They were there when the fire call came in.
• A police officer had located Jackson’s vehicle at the trailer park in lot No. 3, but he was not around. They spoke to the owner of the trailer, Dorothy Portz, who advised the officer that Jackson and Nancy Portz had been there earlier. The owner looked outside and observed that her vehicle was missing and Jackson’s was there. The owner stated she had not given Nancy Portz or Jackson permission to take her vehicle. The house fire call came in while both the officer and the sergeant were at the trailer park.
• The officer and sergeant returned to the scene of the fire. The sergeant spoke with Holmes who stated that he did know Jackson. Holmes stated that Jamie Brooks was also living at the residence and that Jackson had been staying there. The sergeant asked Holmes where Brooks was at and he stated that she was out at her mother’s residence, which is where a disturbance took place that the sheriff’s department was investigating. During the disturbance, three witnesses heard Jackson threaten to set fire to Brooks’ residence. During the disturbance, Jackson also slapped Brooks but she did not want to press charges.
• Officer made contact with Dorothy Portz, whose vehicle Nancy Portz and Jackson had been driving. She advised they had returned to her trailer and then left again. Dorothy Portz advised Nancy Portz and Jackson that the police had been at the trailer looking for them and they left in Jackson’s Mercury Cougar. Portz had two active arrest warrants.
• Law enforcement were able to locate Jackson and Portz using Brooks’ cellphone that they believed he had.
• In the meantime, officers had checked with Holiday gas station and learned a man matching Jackson’s description had purchased a gas can, $5 worth of gas and a lighter. Jackson was apprehended wearing the same clothes described by the Holiday employee. The man used a gift card for the purchase. The gift card was in Jackson’s possession when he was arrested.
• Nancy Portz advised officers she had picked up Jackson in Dorothy Portz’ vehicle and taken Jackson to the Holiday station to purchase the items. She then drove him to an alley on 13th Street near Seventh, which is close to Holmes’ residence. He got out with the gas can and was gone a couple of minutes, then he came running back without the gas can. Portz advised officers that she didn’t realize what Jackson had done until the officers were talking about a house being on fire.
• Jackson provided a statement where he advised investigators that he purchased the gas, went with Portz to the residence and egged Nancy Portz on until she agreed to start the fire, then drove them away from the residence once he saw it was in flames.