Hayman fire-starter resentenced

By DENNIS HUSPENI Updated: March 27, 2008 at 12:00 am • Published: March 27, 2008

CRIPPLE CREEK - Terry Barton is likely to be released from federal prison around the sixth anniversary of the worst wildfire in Colorado's history after a judge resentenced her Thursday.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Thomas Kennedy resentenced Barton to 15 years probation and 1,500 hours of community service, bringing an end to years of legal wrangling by prosecutors from the four counties affected by the Hayman fire.

Her 12-year prison sentence on a state arson charge was tossed out by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2004 because of the way the original judge handled her case.

Barton, 44, is serving the remainder of a six-year sentence on federal charges for starting the 2002 Hayman fire. She's scheduled to be released from that Texas federal prison in June, according to her attorney.

Once she's released, Barton will have seven days to check in with 4th Judicial District probation officials. Her new sentence on the state charge will be retroactive to 2003, meaning she'll be subject to community service and probation check-ins until 2018.

During a severe drought and extreme fire danger in June 2002, Barton, a U.S. Forest Service fire spotter, reported that a fire had started in a campground northwest of Lake George. About a week later, she was arrested after admitting she accidentally started the fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.

The fire burned 137,000 acres in the Pike National Forest and destroyed 133 homes.

"The results of your conduct will be visible long after everyone in this courtroom is dead, and after their children are dead," Kennedy said Thursday. "That burn and scar on the mountainside will continue."

The maximum sentence Kennedy could have imposed was six years in prison. Because the plea agreement stipulated Barton get credit for state time while serving her federal prison sentence, she would have already completed that state sentence, Kennedy said.

"If I impose a six-year sentence, it will be meaningless," Kennedy said. "Justice requires something more - that you give back to the community you damaged with your actions."

Kennedy ordered Barton to perform at least 100 hours of community service per year, and that service be done in one of the four counties in which the fire raged for weeks.

"It's your opportunity to demonstrate that you're remorseful," Kennedy said.

Before Kennedy imposed the sentence, several people spoke on Barton's behalf, including a woman whose home was consumed by the Hayman fire.

"Terry Barton has more than served her time," said Jamie Johnston of Teller County.

Johnston, who emphasized she was not speaking for everyone who lost property, said: "It's time for us to move on and put this period of our lives behind us."

Barton's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Marcus Henson, told Kennedy that Barton has helped other women in prison focus on health and fitness. She's been productive in prison, becoming a certified personal trainer, he said.

"She's not asking for victims to forgive her," Henson said. "She just wants them to get rid of the anger in their heart and move forward."

Fourth Judicial District Attorney John Newsome, who spoke on behalf of prosecutors from Park, Douglas and Jefferson counties, said prosecutors at the time wouldn't have agreed to the plea deal if the sentence had been capped at six years.

"Our hands are tied, literally," Newsome said.

Newsome emphasized Barton's "misuse of public trust" and the "catastrophic effect" the fire had on state lands, property and the people who owned it.

"She caused over $30 million in damage," Newsome said. "But more importantly, she burned our trust."

Prosecutors will submit a request for more than $30 million in restitution, Newsome said.

Henson asked Kennedy if Barton's probation could be transferred to California so she could live with her children. But Kennedy refused.

"That would be of no benefit to the state of Colorado," Kennedy said.

 

TIMELINE

  • June 8, 2002 - U.S. Forest Service worker Terry Barton of Florissant reports a fire started at a campground northwest of Lake George. It would grow to become the largest wildfire in Colorado's history and was named the Hayman fire after a mining ghost town near Tappan Gulch.
  • June 16, 2002 - Barton arrested on federal arson charges after admitting to investigators she accidentally started the fire by burning a letter from her estranged husband.
  • July 18, 2002 - The Hayman fire is declared officially out. It tore through the Pike National Forest, burning 137,000 acres - about 215 square miles - destroying 133 homes, 466 sheds, barns and other out buildings. It's estimated that it will cost $150 million to rehabilitate the charred land.
  • Dec. 6, 2002 - Barton pleads guilty to two federal charges of starting a fire on federal lands and lying to investigators. The plea agreement calls for six years in prison.
  • Dec. 11, 2002 - State prosecutors file a fourth-degree arson charge against Barton on behalf of the counties affected by the Hayman fire: Park, Teller, Douglas and Jefferson.
  • Jan. 6, 2003 - Barton pleads guilty to a state arson charge. The plea agreement calls for 12 years in prison.
  • Feb. 21, 2003 - U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch sentences Barton to six years in prison on the federal charges, but refuses to impose the $14 million restitution asked for by prosecutors, saying he won't sentence her to a "life of poverty."
  • March 5, 2003 - 4th Judicial District Judge Edward Colt sentences Barton to 12 years in prison on the state arson charge to be served at the same time as her federal sentence. Prosecutors later submit a $27 million restitution request.
  • March 24, 2003 - Barton enters a federal prison in north-central Texas.
  • Dec. 16, 2004 - The Colorado Court of Appeals tosses out Barton's 12-year state sentence for two reasons: Colt should have disqualified himself from the case because he voluntarily evacuated his home during the fire; Colt was not allowed to sentence Barton to more than the normal six-year prison sentence for the arson charge without a jury finding "aggravating factors."
  • Jan. 14, 2008 - The Colorado Supreme Court rules that prosecutors will not be allowed to withdraw from the plea agreement. The ruling effectively caps Barton's sentence at six years.
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