Phil Lippner, a resident of Yosemite Lakes Park, found it unbelievable that his one-time neighbors, Kenneth Jackson and Alice Waterman, would turn out to be arsonists.
Between May 11 and June 25 of 2013, Jackson and Waterman lit a string of 31 fires in the YLP area which left many people frightened for their lives.
“It was terrifying,” said Lippner, who lives less than a tenth of a mile from where the married duo started their first blaze. “You didn’t know if your house was going to make it. There would be neighbors running out to the street in tears, fire trucks parked along the whole street, it was terrible.”
“My family and I would stand out on the deck and watch what was happening,” added Lynn Brown, a YLP resident for more than 18 years. “The constant noise of airplanes was too much because you never knew when another fire was going to happen. To this day I will not go on vacation ... because I am afraid of coming back to nothing.”
Much to the surprise of Lippner, Brown, and many other YLP residents, Madera County District Attorney David Linn recently announced Jackson, originally sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, will be up for potential release next month after serving less than three years of his sentence.
In what he said was an attempt to build opposition against Jackson’s early release, Linn and victim services specialist Taguhi Bableyan collected letters at a Coarsegold home July 27 from victims to be included in the review of Jackson’s case.
Linn said he felt Proposition 57, which reduced the sentences of many nonviolent felons to misdemeanors after it was passed by nearly 65% of California voters last year, was to blame for the potential release of a man who lit at least 21 fires near homes and schools.
“Prop 57 doesn’t do anything for the people of California,” Linn said. “It does a lot for the prisoners of California. It allows nonviolent felons to be released early without serving anywhere near the number of years they’ve been lawfully sentenced to ... Kenneth Jackson serves as an example of everything that’s wrong with that law.”
Linn was not Madera County District Attorney when Jackson was convicted of 21 counts of arson, or when he was sentenced in August of 2014. That was handled by his predecessor Michael Keitz, and lead prosecutor Sally Moreno, now a deputy district attorney in Fresno who’s challenging Linn for his seat next year.
Moreno, in attendance at the gathering, agreed that Proposition 57 has created headaches for law enforcement.
“Best case scenario, under Prop 57, we’ll be back to (review Jackson’s case) every year,” Moreno said. “And that’s really frustrating. I feel like the will of the people who convicted him, the will of the judge who sentenced him according to the law at the time, are not being effectuated by the current laws.”
“Not only is it possible for him to get released, there’s no parole hearing,” Linn added. “That’s the problem with Proposition 57. It’s an administrative review. Some bureaucrat is going to be siting at a table much like this one with a rubber stamp and going to decide whether he stays in or goes out.”
Letters are still being collected for submission as part of Linn’s opposition packet against Jackson’s release. Around 70 have been gathered so far, Linn said. To submit one, call (559) 675-7726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waterman is being held in the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, while Jackson is in California State Prison Solano.
Linn said it’s likely that Waterman’s case will be reviewed for potential release in the near future. She was sentenced to 10 years, 8 months in prison after being convicted of six counts of arson.