By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A 52-year-old Ridgeland man charged with the attempted arson of a garage in the Town of Elk Mound in May of 2012 has been put on probation.
Roger I. Thompson appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court January 25 for a plea hearing.
Thompson previously was scheduled to go on trial January 17, but the trial was cancelled after the plea hearing was set.
The Honorable Judge William Stewart accepted Thompson’s plea of no contest for two misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property and negligent handling of burning material.
Judge Stewart deferred acceptance for two years on Thompson’s plea of no contest to the felony charge of attempted arson.
Deferred acceptance means that if Thompson violates the terms of his probation on the misdemeanors, the judge would have the option of accepting his “no contest” plea to the charge of attempted arson and could find Thompson guilty of the crime.
Attempted arson is a Class C felony that carries a penalty of up to $50,000 in fines and/or 20 years in prison.
In addition to probation, Judge Stewart ordered Thompson to pay restitution to the owner of the building, Judith Hayden, although the exact amount of the restitution will be determined at a court hearing in April.
According to Dunn County District Attorney James Peterson, the restitution for damage to the building is about $3,700.
Peterson noted that Thompson has a criminal history of a prior arson conviction for which he has served a prison sentence and probation.
Thompson was on probation at the time of the incident in the Town of Elk Mound, Peterson said.
In addition to deferring acceptance of the no contest plea for the charge of arson, Judge Stewart accepted Thompson’s no contest plea for the charges of criminal damage to property and negligent handling of burning materials, found him guilty, withheld sentencing and placed Thompson on one year of probation for each misdemeanor to run concurrently.
Thompson was ordered to have no contact with Hayden or her granddaughter, Megan Svee, or the property in question, and was ordered to pay court costs of $243 for each misdemeanor.
A restitution hearing is scheduled for April 19.
Judge Stewart said Thompson should start paying restitution now so that his probation would not have to be extended later because he has not paid all of the restitution.
If Thompson overpays on restitution, the money will be refunded, Judge Stewart said.
According to the criminal complaint, on the afternoon of May 19, 2012, Dunn County Sheriff Department’s deputies responded to a complaint of a fire inside a Town of Elk Mound building on state Highway 12/29.
When deputies arrived on the scene, a woman who identified herself as Megan Svee reported that a man known to her as Roger Thompson had started a fire inside of the building and that she could see smoke and flames.
Svee said that when she attempted to confront Thompson, he had locked her out of the building.
While emergency personnel were responding to the scene, Svee said she had observed Thompson removing from the building a burn barrel with flames coming out of it and had loaded it onto a trailer hooked to his pickup truck.
The burn barrel was still on fire when Thompson left the premises, Svee reported.
Smoke and debris
Deputies said that when they entered the building, they could smell smoke and found debris inside of the building that had been burned and was still hot to the touch. Two one-gallon gas cans were located within about a foot of the burned materials, they said.
When asked what her relationship was to the property, Svee said that her grandmother, Judith Hayden, owned the property, and that Hayden had asked Svee to keep an eye on the property.
Svee said she had been driving from Menomonie to Eau Claire and that when she drove past the property, she had noticed smoke coming out of the shop door.
Thompson had started renting the property the previous summer, had only paid $400, and an eviction was currently in process, Svee told deputies.
Elk Mound Fire Chief Les Shafer told deputies that when he entered the building, light smoke was hanging in the air, that he had found a pile of wood debris inside of the building hot to the touch but that when he searched the remainder of the building, he did not find any additional fire.