U.S. Forest Worker Wants Sentence Vacated

Attorneys for the former forest worker who started Colorado's largest wildfire said her 12-year prison sentence should be thrown out because the judge had to flee his home to escape the smoke.


CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. (AP) -- Attorneys for the former forest worker who started Colorado's largest wildfire said her 12-year prison sentence should be thrown out because the judge had to flee his home to escape the smoke.

Attorney Sharlene Reynolds said the judge's involvement with the fire created the appearance of impropriety. Reynolds said she will file a motion asking state District Judge Edward Colt to step down from the case, which would automatically vacate the sentence.

The judge sentenced former U.S. Forest Service worker Terry Lynn Barton on Wednesday on a state arson charge as part of a plea agreement. Also, Barton was sentenced last month to six years in prison on federal arson charges.

Barton, whose job included spotting illegal fires, admitted starting the 138,000-acre fire 55 miles southwest of Denver last summer. The blaze destroyed 133 homes and one business, causing an estimated $13 million in damage.

Before issuing his sentence, Colt said the fire had forced him to evacuate, and on another occasion he helped feed firefighters.

Barton's attorney said that under Colorado law, judges must recuse themselves if there is an appearance of bias that will lead the community to question the judicial system.

``We don't even have to argue there was actual impropriety,'' Reynolds said.

The judge said Thursday he couldn't comment on the case. But he stressed during the sentencing that he suffered no monetary loss due to the fire.

Christopher Mueller, a law professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said he thought Colt should have disclosed his involvement with the blaze.

``Everyone was affected by the fire,'' he said. ``Still, it's a bit surprising that he didn't relate that point to the lawyers of both sides to discuss whether this would be a conflict.''

Barton, 39, begins her federal sentence March 24. She has apologized in court for the fire but has maintained it was an accident.