Colorado Arsonist Faces Resentencing

Evacuees from the blaze she started included the trial judge who sentenced her.


DENVER (AP) -- The state Supreme Court let stand a ruling that a former forestry worker serving a 12-year sentence for starting Colorado's worst wildfire must be resentenced because evacuees from the blaze included the trial judge.

Terry Lynn Barton pleaded guilty to federal charges including arson that brought a six-year term and to a state arson charge that has a standard range of two to six years. However, state law allows stiffer sentences for cases with aggravating factors. State Judge Edward Colt cited those factors in imposing the 12-year state term.

The Colorado Court of Appeals, however, said he didn't have the authority to decide aggravating factors. The ruling means Barton could be out of prison after six years.

While refusing to hear the Barton case, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would review six other criminal cases in order to clarify a judge's authority to impose harsh sentences.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year said sentences should be imposed by juries, not judges. In May, the state Supreme Court said that if a judge changed a sentence outside the standard range, the decision should be based on facts that were proven to a jury.

John Newsome, one of four district attorneys who serves the fire-ravaged area, said Barton voluntarily gave her plea and knew the penalty could be 12 years. He told The Denver Post on Tuesday that the options now include withdrawing the original plea agreement or impaneling a jury to determine whether aggravating factors exist to warrant a harsher sentence.

Barton's attorney, Sharlene Reynolds, said she would fight any effort to void the plea agreement. She has said she expects Barton to receive a six-year term.

The wildfire three years ago charred 138,000 acres and destroyed 133 houses southwest of Denver. Barton, who was patrolling the Pike National Forest during a season of high fire danger, said the fire began after she tried to burn letters from her estranged husband.