Wisconsin Man Acquitted of Setting Fire that Destroyed Resort

June 29, 2013
He was accused of setting the fire that destroyed his resort, home and livelihood.

June 29--Edward Rosenberg wants to thank the firefighters who tried to save his resort from fires fueled by gasoline.

He couldn't during the 2004 blaze at River Crest Resort in Jackson County. It wouldn't have been appropriate for a suspect to do so, he said.

"Now that it's all done with, I want to make sure I express my respect and my appreciation for what they did and acknowledge their hard work," Rosenberg said.

A Jackson County jury Thursday acquitted Rosenberg, of Black River Falls, of setting the fires that destroyed his town of Adams resort, home and livelihood.

"I loved that piece of land," he said. "I thought I was going to be there for the rest of my life."

The panel found Rosenberg, 52, not guilty after two hours of deliberations and a four-day trial of arson of a building with intent to defraud and seven counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, related to the firefighters called to the resort.

"He finally doesn't have that cloud over his head for the first time in nine years," said his attorney, John Matousek.

Prosecutors argued Rosenberg set the blaze May 28, 2004, intending to defraud his insurance company. Matousek said he showed the jury Rosenberg was underinsured.

"We took their motive away from them," he said.

Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox was unavailable Friday.

The resort's office, personal home and two of three rental cabins were destroyed in the early morning fire. One salvaged cabin smelled of gasoline, and investigators found a burn spot and a wooden matchstick on the carpet near the front door, the complaint stated.

Rosenberg agreed the fire was suspicious but refused to let investigators swab his hands or collect his shoes, according to the complaint.

He told authorities he spent the night bowling and had stopped at a gas station to fill his car and bought two gallons of gas for his mother's golf cart and lawn mower. He left the gasoline cans at his property and checked his email, then went to a tavern until it closed, according to the complaint.

Fingerprints recovered from a beer glass filled with gasoline did not match Rosenberg, his attorney said. Matousek also said critical evidence including tire impressions and 911 calls weren't preserved and that police failed to follow up immediately with alibi witnesses.

Rosenberg called the trial a "cleansing process" after years of living as a criminal defendant in a small town.

"I feel vindicated," he said. "These were absolutely baseless charges against me."

He criticized the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and state Division of Criminal Investigation for "not performing an impartial investigation that should have cleared me from the very beginning."

Sheriff Duane Waldera, who investigated the case and testified at trial, noted Rosenberg's lack of cooperation in the investigation.

"Just because there's a not guilty verdict doesn't mean the person isn't guilty," he said. "With these types of cases, there is limited evidence or not enough evidence to convict beyond a reasonable doubt."

Rosenberg, who works now as a Realtor, sold the land in 2006. In 2005, he sued McMillan Warner Mutual Insurance Co. after it denied coverage of his property on allegations he set the fire, the complaint stated. They settled in August 2009 for $27,500.

Copyright 2013 - La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

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