Suspect pleads not guilty in torching of Boise Bench home

kterhune@idahostatesman.comOctober 18, 2013 

Steven Eugene Roberts III

— A man accused of breaking into a murder victim’s house and setting it on fire pleaded not guilty Thursday.

Steven Eugene Roberts III, 42, has been charged with felony first-degree arson and burglary in the Sept. 1, 2012, torching of Phyllis Ward’s Boise Bench home.

Ward, 74, had been found dead in her burning house a little more than a month before. Autopsy reports indicate she was beaten to death before the fire was set.

Police say Roberts had nothing to do with the retired teacher’s death or the first fire. That case remains unsolved.

Prosecutors allege Roberts broke a plate-glass window to get into the house and steal property before using gasoline to ignite the fire. DNA evidence — blood from a cut the suspect received when he broke the window — ties Roberts to the scene of the second fire, prosecutors said.

Roberts has been held in the Ada County Jail on a $1 million bond since his arrest.

If convicted of both arson and burglary, Roberts would face up to 35 years in prison. But prosecutors plan to file a persistent violator enhancement that could put Roberts behind bars for life.

The sentencing enhancement can be filed against defendants who have been convicted of two or more felonies. Roberts was convicted of burglary and aggravated assault in 2006, and was released from prison in April 2012.

The persistent violator enhancement carries a minimum of 5 years in prison.

Roberts’ trial is set to begin Jan. 27, and both the prosecution and defense say it could be a lengthy process. In court Thursday, the prosecution said it plans to call between 12 and 15 witnesses.

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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