The Idaho Court of Appeals found there was “substantial evidence” to convict a man of setting fire to the home where a murder victim lived.
Steven Eugene Roberts III, 44, argued that something frightened him and that he cut his arm after running, tripping and falling through a back porch window at the home on the Boise Bench on Sept. 1, 2012.
At trial in June 2014, Roberts denied setting fire to the house or touching gasoline cans that held the fuel used to start the fire.
A man identified in court documents as J.M., testified he and Roberts, who he described as a friend, were drinking in a bar before the fire took place. He said Roberts returned at about 4 a.m., when the bar closes, smelling of gasoline and having a cut to his arm.
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Roberts told J.M. he got the cut during a fight. His girlfriend testified that Roberts told her he was cut after falling against a trash bin.
At trial, Ada County District Judge Steven Hippler found Roberts guilty of first-degree arson and burglary. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with a minimum sentence of 10 years before he is eligible for parole.
“The record amply supports the district court’s finding that it was Roberts who set the fire at the residence,” Judge David Gratton wrote for the three-member panel in a four-page decision. Roberts does not dispute that he was at the residence and that he broke the window (and) DNA evidence confirmed his presence at the scene, near the fire’s origin.”
Roberts argued that times provided by witnesses of when he returned to the bar and when the fire was set showed that he could not have been at the house when it caught on fire. The appeals court said the time estimates conflicted by only a few minutes and were not significant to nullify the other evidence against him.
The fire took place six weeks after Phyllis Ward, 74, was bludgeoned to death at the home on Randolph Drive. The murderer of the retired Boise school teacher then set the house on fire.
Roberts was never tied to Ward’s death, but there never was any explanation why he set fire to the home all those weeks later.
He is serving his sentence at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino.