Federal prosecutors announced Friday that they would drop charges against a California bow hunter that allegedly ignited one of the state’s most devastating wildfires, which turned to ashes significant parts of Yosemite National Park in 2013.
Prosecutors also said that they had to drop charges because they lost two key witnesses, which suddenly died months after the court issued an indictment against Matthew Emerald.
Emerald, 33, allegedly started the 2013 Rim Fire that authorities needed two months to put out and spent about $125 million on the fire fighting operations. Moreover, 400 square miles were scorched during those months, while 11 homes were burnt to the ground.
Prosecution disclosed that they needed the two key witnesses to make their case as credible as possible before the jury. They also said that previous statements they obtained from the witnesses couldn’t be used in court.
Although some may be frustrated by the governmnt’s decision to drop the case, prosecutors felt they had a moral obligation to the court and the defendant to dismiss the case if there wasn’t enough evidence.
According to prosecutors, Emerald is the main suspect in starting the third largest fire on Californian soil and the largest Sierra Nevada wildfire in August 2013.
The blaze affected significant parts of Yosemite, Stanislaus National Forest, and private property.
Emerald drew authorities’ suspicions after he was rescued in an area where the fire originated and delivered investigators inconsistent versions of the story.
According to the man, he was hunting for deer on that day and started one campfire that later went out of control. Emerald mentioned the campfire only one time, later he denied any involvement.
Other times, investigators heard from Emerald that the fire was started by a rockslide he had caused or even illegal cannabis growers.
In 2014, a jury issued an indictment against the California hunter for telling lies to investigators and starting the fire. Back then, defense lawyers tried to help their client by saying that his inconsistent statements had been coerced.
Emerald’s lawyers declined to comment on the dismissal of the case, while the defendant and his parents could not be reached.
One of the key witnesses died three months ago at his workplace. He was a valuable witness because he managed to talk to Emerald shortly after he was found in the forest.
The other witness, who was a helicopter pilot in 2013, suddenly died of a heart attack two months ago. Prosecutors hoped that the two witnesses’ testimony would help them send Emerald to jail for at least five years. He is currently walking free after he posted a $60,000 bond.
However, prosecutors’ decision was unexpected and extremely rare. A former U.S. attorney explained that federal prosecutors usually take their time and gather all the necessary evidence long before they appear in court. As a result, they fell very confident about their case.
On the other hand, if there is no physical evidence or a confession and no possibility to cross-examine the key witnesses, their previous statements have no relevance so prosecutors have no other option than to dismiss the case.
Image Source: Discovery News