Government Moves To Dismiss Rim Fire Indictment
FRESNO, Calif. — The government has moved to dismiss the federal indictment against Keith Matthew Emerald, 33, of Columbia, California, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. The indictment alleged that Emerald had caused the Rim Fire, which burned approximately 250,000 acres of land, and that he had made a false statement to federal investigators regarding the origin of that fire.
In its motion to dismiss, filed today, the government advised the United States District Court that two witnesses had unexpectedly died in recent months, since the filing of the indictment last August. The government’s motion characterized one witness as critical to the case and stated that he had been expected to provide trial testimony regarding his discussions with Emerald shortly after Emerald had been rescued from the vicinity of the Rim Fire’s origin. That witness died in a workplace accident in February. The second witness was the helicopter pilot who first responded to the Rim Fire. That witness had been expected to testify about the initial response to the Rim Fire and the rescue of the defendant very close to the Rim Fire’s point of origin. That witness died in March of cardiac arrest. These witnesses’ prior statements are inadmissible hearsay and cannot be used as evidence at trial.
In its motion, the government stated that it had reassessed the case in light of the loss of this anticipated trial testimony and determined that without that testimony it was unlikely to prove the charges in the case beyond a reasonable doubt to the unanimous satisfaction of a trial jury. Accordingly, it was in the interests of justice to dismiss the case.
United States Attorney Wagner stated, “I appreciate the hard work done by the US Forest Service in investigating this case, and I understand that the government’s motion to dismiss will be frustrating to some. However, when circumstances change after indictment, and our judgment is that a case is no longer likely to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it is our obligation to the defendant and to the Court to dismiss that case.”
The United States Attorney also noted that the indictment contained only allegations; a defendant is always presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.