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Testimony cites revenge in arson that killed rabbit

Prosecutors argued Tuesday that a 27-year-old Medford man set fire to his ex-girlfriend's home and pet rabbit out of a revenge for her attempts to distance herself from him.

The trial of Darryl Wayne Smith Jr. began Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court with prosecutors calling witnesses who described him as a temperamental man who often made threats toward his girlfriend and her pets.

Fire engines were called to a home in the 1000 block of Olympic Avenue in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 2012, after flames were seen inside the residence.

Medford police officers and firefighters feared someone might have been trapped.

A Medford officer kicked the door in, putting himself at great risk, prosecutor Nicholas Geil said.

Fire crews quickly doused the flames and found that no one had died inside. However, a deceased rabbit was found inside its cage in the living room. In addition, a cat was injured in the blaze.

Smith became the primary suspect in the case and was quickly arrested and charged with first-degree arson and aggravated animal abuse.

"It was a pretty significant fire," Geil told the jury. "When the firefighters entered the home they said the rabbit was fully consumed by the fire."

Geil then called several witnesses, including neighbors, who testified that Smith had spent a lot of time at the home, which was where his girlfriend lived.

One neighbor said she heard Smith threaten the woman and her animals.

Medford Fire-Rescue Capt. Randy Green said the fire was extremely dangerous because of its intense heat and the quickness with which it spread.

He provided photographs of the scene that night showing flames shooting out of the front door and windows.

Medford Fire-Rescue inspector Ralph Sartain said the fire was set intentionally. He arrived soon after the flames were doused and determined that it had not been caused by faulty electrical work or an appliance.

While on the scene Sartain said Smith approached him and began chatting with him.

Sartain testified that Smith became nervous when he began inspecting an area near a bookshelf in the living room. Sartain would later testify this was the probably origin of the fire.

"He kept trying to direct me away from the bookshelf," Sartain said. "It was weird because I had never hand anyone redirect me during an investigation."

Police soon identified Smith as the suspect and arrested him.

Geil then suggested the fire was set by Smith as a revenge plot to get back at her for their previous fights.

Sartain noted that most "revenge fires" are targeted toward another person's home, clothing or animals.

The trial is scheduled to continue today.

First-degree arson is a Measure 11 crime that carries a mandatory 7.5-year sentence upon conviction.

Aggravated animal abuse is a felony and is charged when a person maliciously kills or tortures an animal.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.