Verdict: Defendants in Sockeye Fire trial found not guilty
The Anchorage couple accused by the state of causing the June 2015 Sockeye Fire, which burned over 7,000 acres and destroyed 55 homes throughout the Willow area, was found not guilty on all counts Friday.
The verdict was read at the Palmer courthouse late Friday afternoon.
Until the verdict had been read, defendants Imig and Dewitt had never spoken directly to the media. After leaving the courtroom Friday afternoon, Imig read a written statement:
“Frankly, the trial by the State of Alaska was wasteful and unneeded. We knew we had to take this path to clear our name. We, too, lost our property and possession in the Willow fire and combined with this trial, it has been very costly for us.”
Several people who lost home and property to the Sockeye were in the courtroom Friday when the verdict was read; many of whom were not happy with the outcome of the trial, which they’d hoped would bring some closure.
“For me, the closure aspect was being able to look them in the eye and for my grieving aspect, but we’ll see. Deep down, from what I know, they are still guilty and I just have to go with that,” said Jaimee High, a Sockeye fire victim.
John Skidmore, director of the Criminal Division with the Alaska Department of Law told KTVA that the department respects the jury’s verdict and there is no sort of appeal process in this type of case.
The main argument from prosecutors from the beginning has been that Imig and Dewitt were reckless in failing to put out a burning pile of brush at their cabin near Mile 77 of the Parks Highway, which led to the wildfire.
The state’s lead fire investigator with the Division of Forestry, Ethan Ely, spent well over 12 hours defending his team’s investigation.
In her testimony Monday, Dewitt admitted that she, Imig and her oldest son had constructed three illegal burn pits on the property the same weekend the Sockeye Fire started, but she maintained that they completely put out all of the fires.
Chris Warren, a private fire investigator from Colorado brought to the stand by the defense Monday, called the state’s investigation into the fire “insufficient.”
“Based on the documentation of evidence that was provided to us, we felt there was not enough information to arrive at a conclusion,” said Warren.
Weather at the time was reported as 83 degrees with a relative humidity of 21 percent, according to an affidavit from 2015.
“The area around the debris pile was not cleared down to mineral soil, there was not a hose or adequate water source to prevent the fire from spreading into the wild lands,” DNR said at the time. “One of the piles continued to smolder and then crept out of the hot ash into the woods, resulting in a wildfire the next day.”
Follow complete coverage of this story tonight at 5 & 6 p.m. on KTVA 11 News. Tonight at 10, hear reaction from Iditarod legend DeeDee Jonrowe, who lost her home and one of her sled dogs to the fire.
The post Verdict: Defendants in Sockeye Fire trial found not guilty appeared first on KTVA 11.