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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: Arson

Arsonist, career criminal gets 10 years

A serial arsonist’s criminal past earned the wrath Friday of a federal judge who sentenced the man to 10 years in prison.

Anthony W. Sotin, 42, previously agreed to accept responsibility for setting his own car on fire on Jan. 12 and torching a commercial building at 13412 E. Nora Ave. on Feb. 9.

U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush was reluctant to accept the terms of the agreement, noting that Sotin’s first criminal conviction came at age 14.

“I have been on the federal bench from Houston, to Las Vegas to San Francisco and thousands of cases in my home district,” he said. “I don’t know that I have ever seen as an egregious criminal history as with you. A rational judge could conclude that Mr. Sotin should be locked up for the rest of his life to protect others.”

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

March 1: Arsonist pleads guilty after just 13 days

Feb. 19: Arrest made in building, vehicle fires

Aug. 8, 1997: Latest antics add to Sotin's long rap sheet

Sibling murder suspects plead not guilty

Two teenage siblings pleaded not guilty to aggravated first-degree murder charges Thursday in Spokane County Superior Court. 

Video conference at the jail isn't working, so Breeanna C. Sims, 19, and Justice E.D. Sims, 18, appeared in person before Judge Michel Price, wearing light blue jail jumpsuits and shackles.

Breeanna Sims appeared to smile or smirk during the hearing. She sat apart from her brother, and the two had no contact during the afternoon hearing.

Friends and family of murder victim Nicholas J. Thoreson, including the mother of his 1-year-old son, attended the arraignments, which came one day after defendant Taylor J. Wolf, 20, pleaded not guilty to aggravated first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, second-degree arson, and taking a motor vehicle without the owner's permission.

The Simses face the same charges, though Breeanna Sims also is charged with rendering criminal assistance for allegedly trying to remove guns from a field near where Thoreson's body was found in the back of his burning Thunderbird on April 13.

The Simses and Wolf remain in the Spokane County Jail on $1 million bond. The Simses are pictured in court, courtesy of KHQ.

Past coverage:

May 19: Suspect spoke of murder in jail call

May 3: Homicide victim remembered in obituary

April 21: Homicide victim may have been tortured

April 14: Man in burned car was shot in head; suspect jailed

Suspect spoke of murder in jail calls

After Spokane County sheriff’s detectives took a man into custody on suspicion of murder last month, a man who witnessed the arrest expressed his surprise to a childhood friend. 

“Justice told her that he couldn’t believe that Taylor was being arrested for something he had done,” according to a probable cause affidavit prosecutors filed to support aggravated murder charges against Taylor J. Wolf, 20, (right) Breeanna C. Sims, 19, and Justice E.D. Sims, 18 (left).

But detectives believe all three share culpability, and Wolf has reportedly described his involvement in phone calls to friends from the Spokane County Jail. 

Wolf told Britney Bjork, girlfriend of jailed Hells Angels Sergeant at Arms Ricky Jenks, he was going to shoot Nicholas J. Thoreson, 22, but “I couldn’t do it, so me and Justice did it together,” according to court documents, citing recorded phone conversations from the Spokane County Jail. “But we had gloves on and stuff.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Wolf's public defender, Thomas Krzyminski, unsuccessfully asked Judge Michael Price to reduce Wolf's $1 million bond at his arraignment Wednesday. Friends and family of Thoreson (pictured) attended.

 Krzyminski emphasized that he understands the serious allegations but said Wolf's mother, Jami Wolf, has offered to let her son stay with her, and reminded Price that Wolf is innocent until proven guilty. 

 Krzyminski said a $1 million bond “is certainly something Mr. Wolf and his family have no chance to post.”

Deputy Prosecutor Kyle Treece said that was the intention.

“I'm certain that I don't need to remind you of the serious, heinous nature of the probable cause affidavit in this case,” Treece told Price.”Mr. Wolf is alleged to have committed acts of torture, assault - eventually murder. The facts of this case are rather egregious.”  Wolf already was on probation for felony resideintial burlgary when he was arrested April 13.

Price said he had serious concerns about community safety and Wolf showing up for court and kept bond at $1 million.

Past coverage:

May 3: Homicide victim remembered in obituary

April 21: Homicide victim may have been tortured

April 14: Man in burned car was shot in head; suspect jailed

Murder victim may have been tortured

A 19-year-old woman accused of helping murder a Cheney man told a friend she was with the victim the day of the murder and watched as her brother and another man beat him for hours. 

Breeanna C. Sims (left) said her brother, Justice E. Sims, 18, (right) believed Nicholas J. Thoreson, 22, had held her against her will, which led to an hours-long assault with a machete that ended with Thoreson dying of a gunshot to the head.

His charred body was found in the trunk of his burning 1987 Ford Thunderbird at Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads about 12:30 a.m. on April 13. A burned gasoline can was nearby.

  The Simses also told a friend that Thoreson was a “snitch” who had told on Breeanna Sims and that Justice Sims stabbed him several times before shooting in the head at an apartment occupied by Taylor J. Wolf, 20 (right). 

The details were included in probable cause affidavits unsealed Thursday.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

April 14: Man in burned car was shot in head; suspect jailed

The Simses and Wolf are pictured in court, courtesy KHQ.

$1 mil. bond for sibling murder suspects

Two teenage siblings arrested in the gunshot slaying of a Spokane man remain jailed on $1 million bond after appearing in court Monday.

 Breeanna C. Sims, 19 (left), and Justice E. Sims (right), 18, face charges of first-degree murder, second-degree arson, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree rendering criminal assistance for the death of 22-year-old Nicholas J. Thoreson, who was found shot to death April 13 in the burning trunk of his 1987 Ford Thunderbird at Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads.

  Taylor J. Wolf, 20, who was arrested 22 hours after Thoreson's body was found, is jailed on a second-degree murder charge but expected to soon face the same charges as the Sims, authorities say.

The Simses and Wolf are pictured in court, courtesy KHQ.

Breeanna Sims was arrested Friday afgter they followed her to Forker and Bigelow Gluch, where she was looking for evidence. A sheriff's dog led detectives to a .38 caliber pistol and a sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun. The pistol is believed to have been used to kill Thoreson.

Justice Sims was arrested after leaving his apartment in north Spokane, where detectives had set up surveillance. He flashed a hand sign at supporters before being led out of District Court after his first appearance Monday.

No motive for the slaying has been released. Wolf has ties to the Hells Angels motorcycle gang and worked briefly at Fessco Fleet & Marine with the gang's enforcer, Ricky Jenks, who is jailed on federal guns charges. Investigators haven't said if Thoreson's murder is related to the Hells Angels.

Affidavits detailing the case remain sealed, though Spokane County sheriff's Sgt. Dave Reagan said there are no other suspects. A status conference for the case is set for April 21.

Thoreson was the father of an 11-month-old baby. Friends say he knew Wolf through a job corps program.

Thoreson's mother, girlfriend and other friends attended Monday's hearing but declined comment.

April 14: Man in burned car was shot in the head; suspect jailed

Burned body in car ID’d; suspect arrested

A 20-year-old Spokane man with a juvenile criminal record and a February conviction for domestic violence has been arrested in connection with a burned body discovered in the trunk of a car.

 Taylor James Wolf, 20, is accused in the gunshot slaying of Nicholas James Thoreson, 22, who authorities say died of a gunshot wound to the head before his body was burned in the trunk of a Ford Thunderbird.

Wolf was arrested on a second-degree murder charge as he tried to leave his apartment at 13615 E. Trent Ave. in a taxi late Wednesday.

He appeared in Spokane County District Court on Thursday. Judge Donna Wilson sealed a probable cause affidavit supporting his arrest at the request of police and prosecutors, who cited an ongoing investigation.

Friends and other sources say Wolf has ties to the outlaw motorcycle gang the Hells Angels.

Read the rest of my story here.

Jury acquits man of house theft, arson

A jury acquitted a man accused of the theft and arson of his former landlord's Spokane home.

Stephen J. Czako, 26, was found not guilty after a trial before Superior Court Judge Tari Etizen.

Czako said he was buying the home at 4621 N. Post St. from Joanne Tucker; Tucker (pictured) says he forged her signature.

Investigators said Czako set the home on fire in October 2008, but jurors didn't buy the claim.

Czako was repsrented by Chris Phelps.

His sister, Shannon Czako, is scheduled to stand trial next month on charges attempted first-degree theft and official misconduct for allegedly using a notary on a document she knew was forged.

Past coverage: June 3, 2009: Suspicious blaze at center of house dispute

Arsonist pleads guilty after just 13 days

A longtime felon and litigation seeker faces 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to two arson fires in Spokane Valley.

Anthony W. Sotin, 42, was indicted by a grand jury just 13 days ago. He pleaded guilty this morning in U.S. District Court in Spokane to use of a fire to commit a federal felony and malicious use of property to damage property used in interstate commerce.

Sotin will remain in custody pending sentencing, which is scheduled for May 27. The first charge mandates 10 years in prison; the second by at least five years and no more than 20. 

The plea deal calls for prosecutors to recommend Sotin be sentenced to 120 months in prison and three years probation. It also drops one count of wire fraud, which carried a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.

Sotin was accused of starting a fire in a building on Nora Avenue Feb. 9 and setting a car on fire Jan. 12, then filing a false insurance claim.

Sotin is well known by law enforcement and has filed more than 15 lawsuits against various government entities, including 12 in 1996 alone.

He currently has a lawsuit filed against the city of Spokane, alleging his rights were violated because he wasn't allowed to leave messages for a public defender representing him in a Municipal Court case.

Past coverage:

Feb. 19: Arrest made in building, vehicle fires

Aug. 8, 1997: Latest antics add to Sotin's long rap sheet

Trial begins in alleged house theft, arson

A man charged with the theft and arson of his former landlord's house is on trial in Spokane County Superior Court.

Lawyers gave opening statements this morning in the case of Stephen J. Czako, who is charged with first-degree theft and first-degree arson.

Czako, 26, said he was buying the home at 4621 N. Post St. from Joanne Tucker; Tucker (pictured) says he forged her signature. Investigators believe Czako set the home on fire in October 2008.

The case took months for fire and police to investigate and hinges on the authenticity of documents and handwriting samples.

The trial before Judge Tari Eitzen is expected to last into next week.

Steve Garvin is prosecuting the case. Stephen Czako is represented by Chris Phelps. His sister, Shannon Czako, is to stand trial next month on charges attempted first-degree theft and official misconduct for allegedly using a notary on a document she knew was forged.

Past coverage:

June 3, 2009: Suspicious blaze at center of house dispute

Felon jailed for arson, insurance fraud

A longtime felon who has filed at least 15 lawsuits against various government entities is in jail on federal arson and wire fraud charges. 

Anthony W. Sotin, 42 is accused of starting a fire in a vacant building on Nora Avenue and setting a car on fire Jan. 12, then filing a false insurance claim.

A hand-held torch was used to start the fires and in each case it was left behind by the arsonist.

Read Nina Culver's story here.

In 1997, Sotin was involved in a police chase that resulted in a story with this lead: Anthony Sotin has a history of bashing things: mailboxes, windows, his ex-wife’s nose. Read that story here.

$250k bond for arson, child rape suspect

A child rape suspect pulled from his burning Chattaroy home this week remains jailed on $250,000 bail after his first court appearance Thursday.

David Wayne Jewell, 40, faces first-degree child molestation and first-degree arson charges after he allegedly tries to torch his home at 34124 N. Newport Highway when deputies arrived to investigate a child rape report about 1:20 a.m Wednesday.

Jewell lit the home on fire and was pulled to safety by deputies after wielding a knife and homemade flame thrower, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. He was shocked with a Taser after refusing to drop the items.

Jewell denied the rape allegation in interviews with detectives at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he was treated before being booked into jail.

Jewell appeared before Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins Thursday via video from the jail.

Editor links ex-Klansman to ‘64 murder

FERRIDAY, La. (AP) — Arthur Leonard Spencer says sure, he made some mistakes back when he was a “snot-nose kid,” like joining the Ku Klux Klan. But murder?

  No, the 71-year-old Spencer says, a small-town weekly paper got it wrong when it reported recently that he may have been involved in burning down a black man's shoe repair shop in 1964 with the owner inside.

“I feel sorry for his family, but I didn't have nothing to do with it,” said Spencer, pictured last August.

  No law enforcement agency has named Spencer as a suspect. But for the dead man's family, still praying for justice 46 years later, it's a welcome if not entirely solid lead.

The allegations were reported by the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, whose editor, Stanley Nelson, has dedicated the past four years of his life to an all-consuming investigation of the blaze that killed 51-year-old Frank Morris. (Morris is pictured above, fourth from right wearing a visor, in front of his shoe repair shop in the 1950s.)

Nelson (right) has written more than 100 stories about the case, culminating in an article that quoted Spencer's estranged son, his ex-wife and her brother as saying the former Klansman confessed to taking part in the crime.

Morris' slaying is one of more than 100 unsolved cases from the civil rights era that the FBI reopened in recent years. But for Nelson, the Morris case was unique, because it happened in his town. He has pledged to solve the crime once and for all.

The motive for the attack is not clear.

By most accounts Morris was well liked around town by both his black and white customers. He was separated or divorced and lived alone in a back room at his shop.

He was not known to be actively involved in the civil rights movement, which made black men targets in those days. And FBI documents indicate at least one witness debunked rumors that Morris had courted white women — a virtual death sentence in that era. Still, just being a successful black businessman with a white clientele and having contact with white women was enough to enrage many people back then.

Others have speculated that Morris may have been targeted for refusing to do shoe repairs for a corrupt sheriff's deputy, who wanted the services for free.

Whatever the case, heavily censored FBI files from the time paint a chilling picture of Morris' death.
Read the rest of the story by Associated Press writer Holbrook Mohr by clicking the link below.

$100k bond for arson suspects in murder

Two men who police believe helped a murder suspect burn his victim’s home were ordered to stay in jail on $100,000 bond today.

Detectives say Mark A. Hoffman, 23, told them he went to William F. Hanel’s home with Ryan D. Corkery, 27, (pictured) and knew Corkery was planning to burn the residence to hide evidence of a murder, according to court documents prepared by Spokane police.

Police say Hoffman identified Eric M. Andersen, 45, as an accomplice and told police he hadn’t stopped the men from burning the home, nor had he called police.

Andersen was arrested at Holy Family Hospital, where family said he was being treated for possible pneumonia. Andersen told police he knew Corkery and Hoffman but “denied being involved in the arson,” police wrote.

Corkery, who was identified by Hanel’s friends as his boyfriend, has said he killed Hanel, 56, Oct. 8 or Oct. 9 because Hanel molested him and a relative. Hanel’s body was discovered in his burning home at 12036 S. Player Drive on Oct. 12.

The three men remain in Spokane County Jail on first-degree arson charges. Corkery also is charged with first-degree murder.

Past coverage:

Oct. 14: Suspect: Sex abuse claim triggered slaying

Oct. 13: Man arrested for murder in Hangman Valley fire

Suspect: Sex abuse triggered slaying

A suspect in the murder of a Spokane man told investigators he beat and strangled the victim with an electrical cord after the man began talking about molesting a relative of the suspect, documents released today say.

 Ryan D. Corkery, 27, was ordered to stay in jail on $1 million bond after appearing in Spokane County Superior Court Thursday on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree arson.

Sheriff’s investigators say Corkery admitted killing William Frazier Hanel, 56, in Hanel’s home at 12036 S. Player Drive on Oct. 8 or Oct. 9 while the two were drinking.

Corkery said he returned to the home early Tuesday with two unnamed people and set Hanel’s home on fire, according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by Spokane County sheriff’s Detective Mike Ricketts. Corkery told KHQ in a jailhouse interview Thursday that Hanel, who was convicted in 1994 of of patronizing a juvenile prostitute. had molested him and a relative years ago.

Read my full story here.

Man accused of murder in Hangman fire

A felon already wanted by the state Department of Corrections was arrested today on murder and arson charges related to a suspicious fire near the Hangman Valley Golf Course. 

Ryan D. Corkery, 27, was detained at a North Hutchinson Road motel today, near where police found a car belonging to William Frazier Hanel.

Hanel, 56, was found dead in burning home at 12036 S. Player Drive early Tuesday.

Firefighters were called to the home at 7:11 a.m. after a neighbor saw smoke; they found Hanel’s lifeless body face down in the kitchen, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

Read my full story here.

Tip on text in arson fire gets teens $1,500

Two teenagers will receive $750 each today for tipping fire investigators to a text message that helped arrest five people, including a man now accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend, for an arson fire at a Spokane Valley elementary school last June.

The fire, which began in a garbage can under a play area at Adams Elementary School, 14707 E. Eighth Ave., caused $1,500 in damage, according to the Spokane Valley Fire Department. 

Robbie W. Bishop, 20, is charged with second-degree arson; four girls also were arrested.

The NW Insurance Council and Arson Alarm Foundation are providing the rewards. Adams Elementary Principal Jeff Dufresne will be receiving the money on their behalf at a ceremony today at 9:30 a.m.

Bishop remains in jail on the arson charge as well as two counts of second-degree murder for the July 22, 2009, stabbing death of 33-year-old Robin M. Anderson, who was pregnant with Bishop’s child.

Bishop has mental health problems and was released from jail before the murder because Eastern State Hospital officials said they didn’t have room for him.

Hunt for arsonist on after apartment fire

Investigators continue to search for an arsonist responsible for leaving more than two dozen low-income people homeless last weekend.

Firefighters were called to the HiFumi En Apartments, 926 E. Eighth Ave., early Saturday morning. The blaze did extensive damage: Officials said it could take six weeks to reopen the upstairs of the building and even longer for the bottom floor. 

Steve Cervantes, executive director of Housing Solutions, said 41 people lived in the building, but 15 found temporary housing with friends or family. On Friday, social service agencies moved the last 22 low-income, elderly or disabled residents from a Post Falls motel where they had been staying since fire broke out.

Temporary accommodation was found at numerous area hotels, group homes and nursing centers, according to a SNAP spokesman.

“I don’t think SNAP has ever been involved in a situation where we had to find residence for so may people in such a short time,” Ron Hardin said.

Meanwhile, fire investigators hope to make an arrest shortly, said Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer.

Cervantes said two other recent fires at the HiFumi En building also were suspected arsons. About six months ago, someone threw a cigarette in a trash can.

That incident caused little damage, but a second fire about three months ago was more serious. That time, someone set fire to a mattress left in a hallway. Cervantes said quick action by a resident prevented serious damage.

Past coverage:

May 13: Residents adrift after fire

May 14: Fire evacuees face a dilemma

Arson suspect caught on tape

Fire investigators think the man pictured is responsible for an arson fire behind a Spokane Valley convenience store last month.

The fire was reported just after 6 p.m. on Jan. 18 behind the Hico Village at 1201 North Barker Road.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department determined the fire was intentionally set and are looking for tips identifying the culprit, the department announced Monday.

Anyone with information is asked to call (509) 928-1700, or call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

‘She sets fires to help ease the pain’

One woman. One trailer park. A string of suspicious fires.

These elements converged in a probable cause affidavit that led to the arrest of a Spokane woman Tuesday.

Carol J. Haloburdo, 53, is in Spokane County Jail on $20,000 bond, charged with second-degree reckless burning for a fire that threatened homes, business and heavy timber along Sunset Highway on the West Plains. She appeared in Spokane County Superior Court today.

Haloburdo told investigators she was in an abusive relationship and “when the cutting does not help she sets fires to help ease the pain,” according to the affidavit.

Read my story here.

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