Two admit to arson in plea deals

Published October 2, 2004 2:50 am
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Threatening to file more serious charges that could have added an additional three decades to their time in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office persuaded two men to plead guilty to arson on Friday.

In separate cases and before different judges in U.S. District Court, both men accepted plea deals that will put them behind bars from five to 20 years. They also face fines of up to $250,000.

Justus A. Ireland, 23, of Midvale, admitted throwing lighted flares into a truck and under a pallet behind Stock Building Supply in West Jordan on June 14, causing $1.5 million in damage. He also spray painted "ELF," referring to the Earth Liberation Front, a group connected to dozens of acts of vandalism and arson throughout the nation.

An hour later, 18-year-old Joshua Stephen Demmitt told a federal judge that he and Harrison David Burrows started a fire July 8 in a storage shed at Brigham Young University's Ellsworth Farm, where animal husbandry experiments take place. They also burned two tractors at the site, he said.

Demmitt said they committed the offense to make a statement for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The ALF and ELF are loosely affiliated groups that use similar tactics but have different political goals.

U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner announced the arson charges Tuesday, calling the men "domestic terrorists" and expecting guilty pleas to follow that day. But U.S. Magistrate Samuel Alba delayed both cases to allow defense attorneys more time to review the files.

In response, Warner's office issued an ultimatum: Plead guilty by Friday or face stiffer charges.

In both cases, the additional charge would have been an accusation of using an incendiary device to commit the arson, which can tack on 30 years to a sentence.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene is expected to sentence Demmitt on Jan. 18. Judge Ted Stewart will sentence Ireland on Jan. 20.

Burrows, 18, previously pleaded guilty and is slated to be sentenced Jan. 10.

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