Lake Christine Fire suspects due in court Tuesday; DA says hearing is procedural
The couple accused by authorities of starting the Lake Christine Fire are scheduled to appear in Eagle County Court for a disposition hearing Tuesday, as is the father of one of the suspects.
The hearings are expected to be procedural, with no pleas or other substantive action, said 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown. The cases will likely be transferred from county court to district court because they involve felonies, Brown said, and the cases against Richard Miller and Allison Marcus are likely months away from resolution.
“I would consider these matters at early stages,” Brown said.
Miller and Marcus, both 23, each face three charges of fourth-degree arson, a Class 4 felony, and setting fire to woods or prairie, a Class 6 felony.
Craig Miller, Richard’s father, isn’t facing charges directly related to the fire. Instead, he was arrested for his alleged conduct when Eagle County deputies received an anonymous tip July 14 that his son and Marcus were at his home in Missouri Heights.
Craig Miller, 49, allegedly became upset that someone had tipped off law enforcement officials and angrily charged over to the house of neighbors to confront them, according to an affidavit in support of a warrant filed by an Eagle County deputy. Eagle County deputies arrested Miller that night and he was formally charged July 25 with second-degree burglary, second-degree trespassing and two counts of menacing. The burglary charge is a felony, according to the Eagle County Court Clerk’s Office.
Brown said there was confusion that led to the arrest of Craig Miller.
“In reality, I don’t think that’s anything more than a sideshow,” Brown said. “It has nothing to do with the merits of the (fire) case.”
A number of factors led to Craig Miller’s arrest, according to Brown. The DA said he informed the attorney for Richard Miller on the week of July 9 that a felony warrant was out for his arrest for charges in connection with the Lake Christine Fire. Brown said Miller’s attorney told him the suspects would turn themselves in by the “end of the week.” He interpreted that to mean by July 13.
Meanwhile, Craig Miller arranged with a detective in the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office for Richard and Allison to turn themselves in July 16, which was a Monday. He had requested that no law enforcement officials “be harassing or stalking his house that weekend because family was going to be in town,” according to an incident report by an Eagle County Sheriff’s Office detective.
The two Eagle County deputies who received the anonymous tip that the two suspects were at Craig Miller’s house were unaware of such an arrangement. The detective who cut the deal was off duty that weekend.
A report by Deputy Sheriff Devan Salazar said he and another deputy “conducted brief surveillance” at Miller’s house and saw the two suspects at a dining room table, so they knocked on the door.
“Deputy Sauer and I were advised the subjects were not at the home and we were also told we were not allowed to search the residence,” Salazar wrote in his report.
The deputies left the residence and parked their separate patrol vehicles on public roads a short distance away to confer.
“A few minutes later a large, white SUV arrived and slammed on its brakes,” Salazar said in his report. “An agitated white male exited the driver’s seat and started yelling obscenities at myself and Deputy Sauer.”
The agitated man was identified as Craig Miller. He demanded to know who provided the tip, according to Salazar. They advised him to go home. Miller left after demanding their business cards.
Miller called a sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office to complain about the deputies coming to his home and allegedly said he was going to “start knocking on neighbors’ doors,” according to the incident report. The sergeant advised him not to do that because he could be arrested for harassment.
Miller allegedly went to a neighboring house on Paseo Drive and was “knocking on the door, screaming and trying to get into the locked home,” the incident report said. The deputies arrived to find Miller back at his house. A man exited the neighboring house, where Miller was allegedly trying to get in, with a crowbar and was yelling at Miller. The deputies calmed him down.
Miller was detained and put in the back of a patrol car. He was later placed under arrest and taken to Eagle County Jail shortly after midnight July 15 after deputies questioned various witnesses, the arrest affidavit said.
The attorney for Craig Miller couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Just after the chaotic scene unfolded with Craig Miller, Richard Miller and Marcus exited the Missouri Heights house with their hands in the air and said they wanted to surrender, according to an incident report by Basalt police Officer Bo Biggs, who was called in for backup. Biggs kept Richard Miller and Marcus in his patrol car while Sauer ended his investigation of the Craig Miller case.
“(Richard) Miller asked me if we could forget about what his father did; I advised this is not my case and more than likely the charges would not get dropped,” Biggs said in his incident report.
“Mr. Miller stated that I should not believe anything I read in the paper about the fire; I advised him that I actually have not read anything in the paper about the fire,” Biggs’ report continued. “Mr. Miller stated there is way more to the story than what the paper is writing. At this time, Ms. Marcus told him not to say anything else.”
A short time later, the deputy got Miller and Marcus in his car, put seat belts on them and put them in wrist restraints and transported them to Eagle County Jail. All three suspects bonded out.
DA Brown said his office has established procedure against arranging plea bargains with people who allegedly violate fire restrictions.
“If a case has no legal infirmities, I would tend not to do any plea bargaining,” he said. However, he noted “no case is perfect.”
The goal is to find a resolution “that is fair to all involved,” Brown said.
Regarding Craig Miller’s case, Brown said he didn’t feel a charge of harboring a fugitive was appropriate, given the circumstances. Craig Miller had arranged with a deputy for the surrender of his son and Marcus on July 16. That was unknown to other law enforcement officials and the whole situation at his house got “sideways,” Brown said. However, it ended up with the same outcome that would have eventually happened, with the surrender of Richard Miller and Marcus.
“None of these people are bad people,” Brown said.