UPDATE: Million-dollar bond for Boise arson suspect

kterhune@idahostatesman.comAugust 29, 2013 

Steven Eugene Roberts III

Boise police say Steven Eugene Roberts III is not responsible for the slaying of 74-year-old Phyllis Ward, nor for the fire set on July 23, 2012, after her death in her home at 5824 Randolph Drive.

But investigators believe Roberts, 42, broke into the house and set a second fire on Sept. 1 of that year. Thursday, Roberts was charged with two felonies: first-degree arson and first-degree burglary.

"I can unequivocally say this is not related to the death," said Chuck McClure, Boise Police Department spokesman.

Roberts was still in the Ada County Jail on Thursday afternoon. A judge earlier in the day set his bond at $1 million.

Prosecutors did not offer a motive for the arson, nor said if anything had been stolen from the home before it was torched.

Roberts reportedly broke a large plate glass window to get into the home, cutting his hand in the process. Blood drips and smears at the scene are a DNA match to the suspect, prosecutors said at Thursday’s arraignment.

Roberts poured gasoline around the house and torched it, prosecutors say. The gas ignited with a loud booming sound, and alarmed neighbors quickly called the fire department.

Roberts was on parole from a 2006 burglary and aggravated assault; he had been released from prison on April 27, 2012, according to state corrections officials. He fled Idaho shortly after setting the fire, prosecutors said. He was arrested in Louisiana in November after parole officers noticed credit card activity in the area, and was transferred to the Ada County Jail Wednesday.

The arson Roberts was charged with came less than six weeks after Ward’s slaying. An autopsy in that case showed the retired teacher died after multiple blunt force blows to the head. The killer then set a fire in her bedroom. Ward’s badly burned body was discovered after neighbors spotted the fire and called 911. The investigation into Ward's death continues.

In July, family members and a neighbor of Ward’s said a second fire had been set in the house after her death, but that the suspect in that arson had no connection to the homicide.

"They think he saw an opportunity to steal," said Jennifer Holley, 39, one of Ward's three grown children.

Detectives declined to comment for the July article. Thursday was the first time that police publicly confirmed the second fire occurred.

Roberts will next be in court for a preliminary hearing at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 11.

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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