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Accused burglar may not face arson charges

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Mike DuPre'
November 20, 2007
— The man accused of burglarizing and vandalizing Janesville’s Odd Fellows Lodge on Nov. 3 might not face an arson charge even though fire heavily damaged the building.

Jeremy A. Brown, 24, Homewood, Ala., waived his right to a preliminary hearing Monday on charges of burglary, felony criminal damage and misdemeanor theft. Brown is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday, Nov. 27, when he probably will enter pleas to the charges.


Brown faces almost 17 years behind bars on the charges filed, but maximum sentences are rare.


Much more common are plea agreements to resolve cases, as assistant district attorney Scott Dirks pointed out after the hearing: “99.9 percent of cases are resolved.”


Dirks said he was unsure if he would file an arson charge in the case because of a couple of factors:


-- To win a conviction, he would have to prove that Brown not only set the fire but also intended to set the fire.


“That’s the real tough part,” Dirks said. “If he did it accidentally or negligently, that’s not arson.”


-- The case is in a legal quandary because when Dirks wrote the original criminal complaint he did not have police and fire reports on arson, and so did not include arson among the charges.


Then, because Brown waived his preliminary hearing on those charges, Dirks said he might be bound to charge no more than what is in the original criminal complaint.


If testimony and/or evidence is presented in a preliminary hearing that warrants additional charges, a prosecutor may file them, Dirks explained.


Otherwise, Dirks said he thought prosecutors are bound by the limits of the original criminal complaint. He said he would review both the fire reports and case law to determine if he can add an arson charge at this point.


The legal Catch-22 started because he had to write the original criminal complaint before he got police and fire reports related to arson, Dirks said.


“That’s just the nature of the beast,” he explained. “To get a bond, we had to file something because he was in custody.”


Brown remained in custody Tuesday at the Rock County Jail in lieu of a $7,500 cash bond. A long-haul trucker, he has no real ties to Rock County, Dirks pointed out.


“The alternative was to release him while we awaited the reports. I strongly doubt we’d have got him back in court without a warrant,” the prosecutor said.


Eight members of Independent Order of Odd Fellows Wisconsin Lodge 14 and its sister organization, Janesville Rebekah Lodge 14, were in court Monday.


Damage has been estimated at $100,000, said Cal Harris, former lodge grandmaster.


Damage ranged from smashed dishes to wood floors buckled from water used to extinguish the fire. Besides the monetary loss, the lodge lost most of the records and mementos of its 160-year history—books, posters, scrapbooks, trophies and medals—to the blaze.


Firefighters found Brown covered with soot in the burning building, according to the criminal complaint.


The Wisconsin Tavern League is soliciting donations at area bars to help Odd Fellows repair and renovate the lodge, Harris said.


Dirks said he still must meet with lodge members and residents of apartments in the combined building at 20-22 N. Main St. to discuss any plea agreement he might offer.



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