Aspen ‘CP Burglar’ now facing arson charges

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

SEATTLE – A convicted felon was arrested in the Seattle area Wednesday on an Aspen warrant alleging that he set fire to a Hunter Creek condominium.

Joseph Kern, 36, posted $10,000 bond Thursday morning, according to King County, Wash., jail records. He faces one felony charge of first-degree arson in connection with the Oct. 1 fire, which displaced him and his then-girlfriend from the unit. No one was hurt in the blaze, officials said at the time.

His arrest came after Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols signed an April 10 warrant prepared by Ian MacAyeal, an investigator with the Aspen Police Department.

The arrest also comes after Kern confessed March 18 in Pitkin County District Court to stealing $2,100 from the safe at CP Burger restaurant in Aspen, where he once worked, on Oct. 3 – two days after he allegedly set the fire. As part of a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to felony theft. Nichols suspended the theft conviction for two years, placing him on supervised probation for the duration.

At last month’s sentencing hearing, Kern told Nichols he planned to start a new life in Washington state because he couldn’t get a job in Aspen.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Aspen Valley Fire Department and Aspen police had been investigating the fire. Kern and his girlfriend at the time had moved into a second-floor rental unit on Oct. 1, but their relationship had grown tense, MacAyeal’s arrest-warrant affidavit says.

Just the day before, Kern, jealous that his girlfriend was talking to another man at a party, left for the night. The two did not see each other until 5 a.m. Oct. 1, when Kern showed up at the apartment, the affidavit says. An argument ensued, the woman told Kern she wanted to cut off the relationship, and Kern left, MacAyeal wrote.

The woman contacted police because she was worried about Kern. Police made two contacts with him but did not take him into protective custody. The woman eventually talked to Kern at 1:22 p.m. that day. He was in the apartment unit at the time but would not let her inside, MacAyeal wrote. Forty-six minutes later, witnesses reported seeing flames coming from a window at the unit.

Authorities later arrived on the scene – Kern was not there at the time – and determined that the fire had originated in the unit’s sole bed, in the bedroom. No accelerants were found, and subsequent tests determined that the fire was started with a “direct flame,” which can be ignited with such devices as a butane lighter.

Police eventually contacted Kern at 7:58 p.m. the day in question.

“Kern said he knew nothing about the fire,” MacAyeal wrote.

Kern also insisted that he had been in Denver that day, but his story had inconsistencies, MacAyeal said. He told his girlfriend he flew there but told police he drove there. Cellphone records also showed that he made calls that originated from the Aspen area when he had claimed to have been in Denver, MacAyeal wrote.

Kern also collected $20,636 from his insurance carrier after he filed a loss claim for the fire, MacAyeal wrote.

“I believe that Kern was on a self-destructive course of events that involved him intentionally setting fire to a bed in the apartment he and (his girlfriend) were to share,” MacAyeal wrote. “I believe his motivation was in part fueled by jealousy, relationship problems, monetary problems and drug and alcohol abuse.”

It was unclear Friday when Kern is due to face the new charge in Pitkin County District Court. MacAyeal declined to comment about the case or when Kern will be extradited to Aspen.


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