Judge amends charges in Roatcap case

Charges against a Dolores man accused of starting the Roatcap Fire in October 2012 have been amended to include seven victims.

Previous District Attorney Russell Wasley initially charged Roger Stratton with a single count of arson in connection with the Oct. 24 blaze that scorched 400 acres. The complaint was amended Tuesday, Nov. 5, to include a total of seven counts of arson.

"My predecessor included all of the victims in a single count," said current District Attorney Will Furse. "There's more than one victim."

Approved by District Court Judge Todd Plewe, the amended charges mean Stratton could face a 42-year prison sentence if found guilty. He originally faced a six-year term. The case is scheduled for a jury trial starting Dec. 2.

"I don't think it's fair," said public defender Amy Smith of the amended charges, citing the trial is only weeks away.

"The law allows to amend the complaint up until the jury is seated," Furse countered.

After approving the amended charges, Plewe set multiple deadlines for prosecutors and defense counsel. A disposition deadline was ordered by Nov. 18 if both sides reach a plea agreement.

If no plea deal is offered, both lawyers were instructed to provide case statements by Nov. 22. Plewe said the case statements would be included in jury notebooks, which provide jurors with a synopsis of the case. The jury notebooks also contain preliminary instructions for jurors to consider when weighing the evidence.

Neither Furse nor Smith has ever appeared before Plewe in a jury trial.

Stratton, 54, of Road P.5 near Dolores, is alleged to have started a fire on his property near Roatcap Hill on Oct. 24, 2012.

The blaze eventually consumed 400 acres, forcing the evacuation of about 30 nearby residences.

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a disaster declaration for the fire. Estimated damages could total up to $250,000, officials said.

The prosecution's chief witness in the case, Montezuma County Sheriff's Office detective Adam Eastman, reported that Stratton denied starting the blaze, claiming it was a "mistake" that he "recklessly, but not knowingly" caused.