Preliminary hearing held for suspected arsonists

awileman@sierrastar.comSeptember 17, 2013 

The Coarsegold couple arrested on arson charges were back in court Monday, Sept. 9 for a preliminary hearing before Madera County Superior Court Judge Dale Blea.

Kenneth Jackson, 40, and Allison Waterman, 46, were arrested June 25 in connection to a rash of fires started in Yosemite Lakes Park and the surrounding area.

The couple is being tried together, however, they have separate attorneys.

Jackson's attorney is Craig Collins, and Waterman's attorney is Greg Gross.

Testimony was given on Monday Sept. 9 by five to six witnesses including Cal Fire Captain Tim McCann who discussed the cause of the fires, indicating the fired in question were intentionally set.

On Thursday Sept. 12, McCann was cross examined for nearly two hours according to Waterman's attorney Greg Gross. Gross said that the cross examination by Collins will continue during the next hearing, scheduled for Monday, Sept. 23 followed by Gross's own cross examination.

McCann was the first of many prosecution witnesses scheduled and additional testimony will be heard on Sept. 23.

Waterman's attorney believes that there is not enough evidence to charge his client with 10 counts of arson.

"This is a defining moment for the 10 counts Mrs. Waterman is facing ... there is absolutely no evidence," said Gross. "There is just evidence that arson cannot be ruled out but no evidence arson took place ... it's going to be interesting to see how the judge handles the case in the preliminary hearing. "I haven't seen anything (evidence) so weak that has survived this far in the my 13 years being an attorney ... I would be embarrassed if I was prosecuting this or was a witness in this case."

Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz declined to comment further on the case because of ethical conflictions.

"We have an ethical obligation and we are in the per-trail stage, in order to give the defendants a fair trial we do not want to try the case in the press," Keitz said.

Madera County Deputy District Attorney John Thackeray is heading up the case for the prosecution.

Continuance of the prelim is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 23 in Department 2 where Gross plans to have cross examine McCann.

The defense stated they do not anticipate calling any witnesses during the preliminary hearing.

Both defendants are being held in jail with Waterman's bail set at $500,000 and Jackson's at $1 million.

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