A Medford man who set his estranged wife's apartment on fire in May has been found guilty of arson.
A Jackson County jury today unanimously found Darnell Louis Walls, 47, of the 400 block of North Phoenix Road, guilty of first-degree arson. The Measure 11 crime carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven and a half years.
Prosecutor Nicholas Geil was pleased with the verdict, saying that Walls was a danger to the community and deserved the stiff prison sentence.
"The jury saw the threat Mr. Walls' actions posed to our community," Geil said.
The two-day trial included testimony from local fire investigators and audio recordings of Walls' statements to Medford police detectives, in which he acknowledged setting a fire that morning.
The jury deliberated for just over 20 minutes before handing down its decision.
Geil argued that Walls was enraged over financial issues with this wife and the fact that she was cheating on him with another man. His anger led Walls to set a fire outside his wife's apartment complex in the 2300 block of East Barnett Road.
"He was trying to scare her," Geil said.
Walls showed up at the apartment complex in the early hours of March 17 and snatched some pizza boxes from a nearby dumpster. He then lit the boxes on fire at a corner of the apartment. The flames charred a small area of the complex but did not spread beyond the facade.
Geil said the size of the burned area was irrelevant. He noted that the fire could easily have entered the complex through windows or the attic and killed the many people inside.
"This is the time of day when people are asleep," Geil said. "This could have been worse than an arson. It could have been an assault or a homicide."
Defense lawyer Michael Bertholf acknowledged that his client made a foolish decision that morning, but his actions did not rise to the level of first-degree arson.
"This fire did not have enough heat or strength to spread any farther than it did," Bertholf said.
Bertholf said Walls clearly did not intend to injure or kill anyone that morning. He pointed to a statement Walls made to police that he tried to douse the flames prior to leaving the area.
After starting the fire, Walls walked to Rogue Regional Medical Center to report that he had been assaulted by his wife and a male accomplice. Police quickly saw through the story and determined it was a feeble attempt at an alibi.
Walls will be sentenced at a later date in Jackson County Circuit Court.
— Chris Conrad