Following five months of presenting evidence and testimony, it took a jury just five days to return with a guilty verdict in the Kenneth Jackson and Allison Waterman arson case.
On Thursday, May 8, Jackson, 41, and Waterman, 47, both of Yosemite Lakes Park, were found guilty of arson for their involvement in a rash of fires taking place between May 11 and June 25 in Yosemite Lakes Park and the surrounding area.
In what Craig Collins, Jackson's defense attorney, called one of the longest trial cases he has seen in his career. Deputy District Attorney Sally Moreno said the evidence was clear that both Jackson and Waterman had not only set the fires but conspired to do so.
"Every circumstance confirms the charges as charged in this case. When you go back to deliberate. Take this evidence. Poke this evidence, twist this evidence, manipulate this evidence, listen to what you need to listen to, look at what you need to look at," Moreno said prior to the verdict. "Circumstantial evidence is difficult to manufacture and it all points in the direction of these two defendants."
During her closing arguments, May 5, Moreno stated she was confident that the evidence pointed directly to the guilt of the two suspects.
"This has been a very long trial. I have the burden of proof and you have heard it more than once. I am confident when you evaluate the evidence you will find these defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
Judge Dale Blea read the guilty verdict in front a distraught Jackson and Waterman, who have both been incarcerated since their arrest nearly a year ago on June 25.
Jackson was found guilty on 21 counts of arson (20 counts of arson of wildlands and one count of arson of an inhabited structure), and additional counts for conspiracy to commit arson, resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer. Waterman was found guilty of six counts of arson of wildlands and another count of conspiracy to commit arson.
Throughout the trial, testimony was heard from several Cal Fire investigators, forensic specialists and friends of the defendants testifying to the cause of the fires and the whereabouts of Jackson and Waterman during the fires. All of which played a significant role in the decisions of each of the 12 jurors consisting of mainly middle aged and senior citizens.
During the 5 month jury trial, evidence was introduced that in the six week period between May 11 and June 25, 2013, 31 fires occurred in the Yosemite Lakes Park area of Madera County. Through the exhaustive efforts of Cal Fire sifting through the burn areas for evidence and their observations of activity in and around the fires, the arson investigators were able to rule out natural and accidental causes, allowing prosecutors to prove Jackson and Waterman started 23 of the fires.
"Arson is very difficult to prove," said Madera County District Attorney Keitz. "The convictions in this case would never have occurred had it not been for the diligent efforts of the Cal Fire investigators and deputy district attorneys prosecuting the case. Likewise, the jury is to be commended for their outstanding job, having had to sit through very lengthy and complex periods of testimony and evidence from over 50 witnesses and 4,500 pages of reports. The people of Yosemite Lakes Park should sleep more restfully knowing that the persons responsible for the damage and terror foisted upon them last year have been brought to justice."
Press conference at Yosemite Lakes Park Community Center
District Attorney Michael Keitz and Deputy District Attorneys Sally Moreno and John Thackeray were on hand at the Yosemite Lakes Park Community Center on Monday, May 12, to answer questions regarding the arson case that shook the YLP community.
Roughly 50 concerned citizens from the surrounding area showed up to discuss the specifics of the case that rocked the community just one summer ago.
Keitz addressed several inquiries to the trial including questions about motives and appeals process for the case.
Keitz was unaware whether or not either of the defendants would appeal the juries decision and said a motive was yet to be determined. Declaring publicity and the thrill as a possibility to why the two would commit such a crime.
Keitz partially discussed mounds of evidence which included more than 4,500 pages of manuscripts and evidence.
"We are very pleased with the outcome. These are very serious crimes and we will ask for the maximum sentence when the time comes," Keitz said. "The people of this community were terrified back in June and I'm glad we got the verdicts we got. Hopefully the people of this community can sleep a little easier."
Those in attendance showed signs of relief knowing that the perpetrators would most likely never return to the area.
Jeff Otto, who owns a home inside Yosemite Lakes Park, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the trial and was glad the district attorney's office took the threat so seriously.
"It was kind of scary there for a while. I'm just glad they figured everything out," Otto said.
Madera-Mariposa-Merced unit Fire Chief Nancy Koerpevich spoke before the crowed reassuring her faith in the District Attorney's Office and praising the inter-agency cooperative work that was done throughout the investigation.
"If it were not for District Attorney Michael Keitz I'm not sure we would be able to present a case well enough," Koerpevich said. "He gave us the tools we needed, he trusted our judgment and let us be part of the team, and that team also included Deputy District Attorneys Sally Moreno and John Thackeray....the were phenomenal in trying this case."
Koerpevich also praised the investigators in their handling of the case and the difficulty in preparing for what she called a difficult case to prove.
"I am incredibly proud of those teams, both the Cal Fire side and the D.A. side, to be able to present to you the ability to say there's at least two less arsonists that are going to be out there threatening you homes, your live and you animals...I couldn't be any more proud to be a part of that," Koerpevich said.
Koerpevich described the evidence gathering process as an extremely diligent and time consuming process.
"To get his done was a hurculean event. We had about 20 investigators throughout the state of California come here and make sure we were doing everything in our power to protect the citizens, not only in the county of Madera but more specifically here in YLP," Koerpevich said.
Tom Swire, President of the Yosemite Lakes Owners Association, said he was very pleased with the verdict and said he believes this type of crime should not be taken lightly.
"I am very satisfied with the verdict and I am looking forward to th sentencing and seeing what happens there. We don't want to see them around here anymore," Swire said.
The sentencing for the trial is set for 8:30 a.m. June 6, in department 2, where judge Blea will listen to statements made by victims and decide the fate of both Jackson and Waterman. Jackson faces a maximum sentence of 32 years while Waterman faces a maximum sentence of 12 years.