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Criminal Law Keyed to Gershowitz
State v. Rogers
Citation:2006 WL 2716870 (unpublished).
On April 23, 2004, a fire was started inside the apartment of Dennis Rollins. Rollins was not home at the time, but other occupants of the apartment building were. At trial, Rollins testified that at the time, his girlfriend, Norma Fish, was living with him. Unbeknownst to Rollins, his girlfriend was also dating the defendant. Approximately two and one-half weeks before the fire, news of this relationship ignited a minor physical confrontation between the defendant and Rollins. The defendant told Rollins, “I ain’t the one to mess with. . . . She’s mine. She’s mine.”
Rollins received a call from his neighbor who told him that a smoke smell was coming from his apartment. Upon returning to his apartment, Rollins opened his door, smelled smoke and saw a big black spot on the floor. He doused the spot with water, sprayed the spot with potpourri, and placed a floor mat over the spot. There was a significant burn spot on the carpet, but no further damage or threat.
The day after the fire, Rollins called the apartment’s management and asked them to investigate. An arson investigator showed Rollins a videotape. Because of a hearing problem, Rollins had a paper note on his door advising people to knock loudly. The videotape showed the defendant removing the note off Rollins’ door, lighting it on fire, and sliding it under the door. It burned the carpet, however,
The defendant testified that he went to Rollins’ apartment to confront Rollins face to face like a “real man.” The defendant knocked on the door but nobody answered. Believing Rollins to be inside, the defendant took the paper sign off the door, lit it, and shoved it under the door. The defendant explained that he was trying to get Rollins’ attention and draw him outside. The defendant acknowledged that he knew that a lot of people lived in the apartment complex.
At trial, the jury had to decide whether damage to the carpet constituted damage to a structure under the aggravated arson statute. The jury, without approval, used an electronic dictionary to define the word “structure.” The defendant was convicted of aggravated arson. He appealed.
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