Sonora, CA — Citing that two key witnesses recently passed away, the federal government has filed a motion to dismiss the charges against the man accused of starting the Rim Fire.
33-year-old Keith Emerald was accused of accidentally starting the fire in August of 2013 while bow hunting. One of the witnesses interviewed during the investigation, an acquaintance of Emerald, died in a workplace accident in February. Another witness was the initial helicopter pilot that responded, and he died of cardiac arrest in March.
Prosecutors claim that the witnesses were expected to provide testimony at the trial. A press release from the US District Attorney’s Office states, “These witnesses prior statements are inadmissible hearsay and cannot be used as evidence at trial.”
The initial federal indictment argued that Emerald caused the Rim Fire and made a false statement to federal investigators regarding the origin of the fire. Emerald had pleaded not guilty to the charges and his attorneys argued that he was coerced into admitting to starting the fire because of pressure put on by federal prosecutors.
The Rim Fire burned 257,000 acres.