A four-day trial featuring nearly three dozen witnesses and hours of confusing testimony culminated in the acquittal of Wauzeka’s Chris Erickson on a charge of felony arson late Friday night in Grant County Circuit Court.
Erickson, 41, had been accused by prosecutors of hiring 37-year-old Carmen Lee of Waukon, Iowa to burn down the Boscobel home of his then-separated wife in an effort to have her return to their Wauzeka home in January 2012. Natalie Erickson was living with her mother, Ellen Truog, at the time at 404 East Bluff St. in Boscobel.
On Jan. 19, 2012 the Truog home started on fire and caused over $100,000 in damage. The cause was determined to be arson.
On June 19, 2012 Lee plead no contest to felony arson of a building without the owner’s consent. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 18 months of extended supervision, as well as ordered to pay restitution to the Wisconsin Mutual Insurance Company.
However, Grant County District Attorney Lisa Riniker and Assistant State Attorney General Dick Dufour were apparently unable to definitively connect Chris Erickson to the crime in the eyes of the jury and they came back with a not guilty verdict at approximately 11:30 p.m. Friday.
From the start the trial was marked by confusing and sometimes inaudible testimony. For example, early in the proceedings jurors listened to a secretly taped conversation between Lee and her friend and former roommate Angela Ziegler in which Ziegler was to get Lee to link the fire to payments Chris Erickson had made to Lee. However, the prosecution got little out of the conversation because Ziegler talked over much of Lee’s responses.
Ziegler was scheduled to testify again on Friday morning, but was unable to attend, saying she couldn’t get to Lancaster from Waukon due to car troubles. She was then allowed to testify via phone, but said she had trouble hearing or understanding questions from both the prosecution and defense. When she did have a response it was primarily that she did not recall the events being questioned.
Also testifying on Friday were Chris Erickson’s son and Erickson himself, who if convicted could have faced up to 40 years in prison.
During closing arguments the prosecution brought up a taped phone conversation between Lee and Chris Erickson after Lee had confessed to starting the fire. She repeatedly asks Erickson what to do now, to which he replies, “Follow the plan.”
Ellen Truog said Monday she still can’t believe the jury’s finding of not guilty.
“We were shocked at the outcome of the verdict, and very disappointed,” Truog said. “To be honest, we were stunned, just stunned.”