Accused arsonist pleads not guilty
The woman accused of setting fires at a Medford hardwood store, Hawthorne Park and a public restroom at the Jackson County Jail pleaded not guilty to all charges at her arraignment today.
Dressed in prison clothes but unshackled, Debra Irene Johns, 57, kept her head down and said nothing during the brief hearing before Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Adam Peterson.
Johns, whom police describe as homeless, was allegedly in the jail restroom from 5:18 a.m. to 6:09 a.m. on July 24, based on lobby surveillance video analyzed by detectives. Officials said the video and forensic evidence linked her to the restroom fire.
Johns also roughly matches the description of a person with shoulder-length brown hair and a thin build who was seen running from Beavertooth Oak, a Medford hardwood store, on July 23, leaving a small fire behind.
Police say Johns remains a prime suspect in an apparent spree of more than 20 fires around west Medford that started June 25 when a former fruit packing plant at 220 N. Fir St. burned to the ground.
Many of the fires stared in alleys and near fences or outbuildings during the dawn or predawn hours. Sometimes multiple fires were reported within a few hours of each other, forcing responding fire crews to jump from scene to scene.
Police nabbed Johns the morning of July 24 after an emergency call in Hawthorne Park for a tree fire and another small blaze burning nearby. About five hours earlier, police and fire agencies had responded to a fire burning through stacks of wooded fruit bins across the street from a Tree Top plant in the 600 block of South Fir Street.
During a search of Hawthorne Park, police saw Johns on the Bear Creek Greenway north of the park. Johns reportedly tried to flee while throwing aside bits of tissue paper. Officers caught up with her and arrested her.
A pre-trial conference was set for Aug. 18.
<I>Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.</I>