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Court sentences convicted arsonist in Brainerd house fire

Convicted arsonist Ronnie Jerome

Jackson III was sentenced to 115 months in prison after his petition to delay or reduce the sentence was denied.

At the same time, the court granted the state’s request to deviate from sentencing guidelines for greater prison time.

Jackson was convicted of felony first-degree arson for setting a southeast Brainerd home on fire while a man was asleep inside.

Brainerd police officers were called to the fire at 4 a.m. on June 21, 2011, and learned a man matching Jackson’s description purchased a gas can, $5 of gasoline and a lighter. In a statement to investigators Jackson later admitted some involvement. A jury convicted Jackson in May.

For his petition to the court following his conviction, Jackson waived his right to be represented by counsel and represented himself. Candace Prigge, assistant Crow Wing County attorney, appeared on behalf of the state.

Jackson petitioned to delay sentencing, to have personal property held as evidence returned to him and to require victims of his crime to be present and provide input at his sentencing. Jackson also asked the court to delay sentencing until it could receive and review a new psychological or psychiatric evaluation completed recently.

Crow Wing County District Court Judge Erik Askegaard noted Jackson’s jury trial found he knew or should have known the victim was asleep inside and any ability to seek help or escape harm was impaired. Askegaard concluded the victim was particularly vulnerable and that aggravating factor warranted an upward sentencing departure.

The victim, Chad Holmes, was asleep at the time of the fire and was awakened at 4 a.m. by a stranger who saw the fire.

The court found there was no credible evidence to support Jackson’s contention he should receive a reduced sentence.

“There is no evidence that (Jackson) has any mental impairment that is sufficiently extreme to be a mitigating factor for purposes of sentencing,” the court determined, utilizing reports from a psychologist.

If a person sets a fire to destroy a building used as a dwelling, the court noted that person is guilty of arson in the first degree.

“If a person commits the act while knowing there is a person present in the dwelling, the offense is more serious; and if he commits that act while knowing that the person present in the dwelling is asleep, the offense is significantly more serious,” the court ruled.

The state argued if an unoccupied dwelling was set on fire, the crime, given Jackson’s criminal history, would have called for a sentence of 68 months. If the crime was committed with the intent to kill, the state argued the sentence guideline would have been 177 months. Since the arson fell short of an intent to kill, the state recommended a sentence of 115 months. The court agreed.

The court said it agreed with a pre-sentence investigation that found “the fact that no one was killed or injured as a result of the defendant’s actions was ‘simply pure luck.’”

Jackson was given credit for time served to date, calculated as 517 days since his arrest on June 21, 2011. The court determined Jackson should serve at least two-thirds, about 76 months of his sentence in prison with 38 months on supervised release. If Jackson commits any disciplinary offense in prison, the sentence may be extended. Jackson was also ordered to pay a $135 fine and to pay restitution determined by Central Minnesota Community Corrections.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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