And upon appeal...........
By STEVEN K. PAULSON
Associated Press Writer
DENVER (AP) - An appeals court Thursday threw out a former U.S.
Forest Service employee's 12-year prison sentence for starting the
biggest wildfire in Colorado history.
The Colorado Court of Appeals said state Judge Edward Colt gave
Terry Lynn Barton too harsh a sentence and had at least "the
appearance of prejudice" because smoke from the fire had prompted
the judge to leave his own home for a night.
The court ordered a new sentencing before a new judge for
Barton, who admitted starting the June 2002 fire when she burned a
letter from her ex-husband in a drought-stricken area.
"This is a good thing for Terry, a victory for Terry," said
Barton's attorney, Sharlene Reynolds.
The attorney general's office said it has not decided whether to
The ruling does not affect a six-year prison sentence Barton
received in federal court after pleading guilty to federal charges
for the same fire. She was serving the state and federal sentences
at the same time.
Barton has also been ordered to pay $42.2 million in
The fire blackened 138,000 acres, destroyed 300 buildings and
caused more than $29 million in damage. More than 8,000 people were
forced from their homes.
The appeals court said Colt acted improperly when he gave Barton
twice the normal maximum prison term after finding
"extraordinarily aggravating" circumstances. The judge had cited
the catastrophic results of the fire and Barton's own knowledge of
fires as a Forest Service employee.
The appeals court said such a finding should have been made by a
jury, not the judge. Barton had waived her right to a jury trial,
but the court said that did not matter.
"Any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the
prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and
proved beyond a reasonable doubt," the appeals court said.
The appeals court also said the judge "injected comments about
his personal experience" into his findings during the sentencing.
The judge helped a court clerk evacuate her home and helped
serve food to people displaced by the blaze, according to the
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
2006...The saga continues
DENVER (AP) - The owners of four properties sued the Forest
Service Friday for damages sustained in the state's 2002
record-setting wildfire, saying the agency's missteps allowed the
blaze to grow out of control.
The federal lawsuit claims the Forest Service is responsible for
the actions of a former forestry worker who pleaded guilty to
starting the fire that burned 215 square miles in central Colorado
about 55 miles southwest of Denver.
The plaintiffs fault the agency for allowing Terry Lynn Barton
to patrol the forest alone the day she set the fire, for clogging
radio channels with a weather report when she tried to report the
fire, and failing to properly train Barton.
The suit lists plaintiffs Wallace White; Laurie Glauth and the
Zelma L. Worden Trust; Charles and Marcia Phillips and the Phillips
Family Trust; and Gary and Sandra Bieske. It does not specify how
much of their property burned or what financial losses they
A Forest Service spokesman Jim Maxwell said everyone has a right
to sue, and courts exist to hear grievances.
"These folks obviously have deep feelings about what
happened," Maxwell said. "We did our very best to make things as
right as we were able to."
The suit is the second filed against the government regarding
the fire in less than three months. Three insurance companies
joined forces June 14 in a suit demanding more than $7 million. A
federal response to that suit is due Monday, U.S. Attorney's Office
spokesman Jeff Dorschner said.
Barton is appealing her 12-year prison sentence handed down on
state charges. She is also serving a six-year sentence on federal
charges in a prison in Texas.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)