A jury deliberated four hours and Friday declared a Bountiful man not guilty of arson in the July 1988 fire that partially destroyed his home.
Carl L. Stephens, 51, was on trial in 2nd District Court on a charge of aggravated arson.A fire broke out in the stairwell of Stephens' home at 3338 S. 475 West the morning of July 21, 1988, and spread up into the remainder of the house, causing about $40,000 in damage.
Prosecutors maintained the fire was deliberately set for the insurance money.
Defense attorney Ralph Klemm, however, persuaded the jury that the fire was accidental, starting from sparks and molten metal produced by a short circuit in the main power line that runs into the house.
The short caused the wires to arc, showering sparks and hot pieces of metal onto mattresses stored in the stairwell and igniting them, according to an investigation by expert witnesses called by the defense.
Prosecutor Bill McGuire, in his closing statement, said the evidence points to the fire being set. The wires did short out and arc, McGuire said, but as a result of the fire, not as the cause.
A central piece of evidence in the trial was the charred, melted pieces of the metal conduit and the burned wiring inside it. Expert witnesses for both the prosecution and defense spent Wednesday and Thursday going over various pieces of it, giving different explanations for its final condition.
Klemm, in his closing statement, held up a piece of the conduit, telling the jury it, and not Stephens, should be on trial because the conduit caused the fire.
Stephens was charged with aggravated arson, a first-degree felony, which carries a prison term of five years to life.