Judge weighs dropping charges against Dane over wildfire
DENVER (AP) — With no viable option remaining for trying a mentally ill Danish man accused of starting a large Colorado wildfire in 2018, a judge said Thursday he will rule next week on whether to dismiss criminal charges against him.
Before deciding the fate of Jesper Joergensen, Judge Gregory Lyman said during an online court hearing that he wanted to be assured that Joergensen would be deported to his homeland. Immigration officials have previously said they would take custody of him if he was released from jail because he has an expired visa.
Lyman also said he wanted to hear from residents of some of the over 100 homes that were destroyed in the Spring Creek Fire at the Feb. 12 hearing which he is scheduled to announce his decision.
Joergensen, charged with 349 counts of arson, has been held in jail for over 2 1/2 years. He has been diagnosed with delusional disorder and deemed by several experts to be unable to participate in a trial and help his defense lawyers because of his detachment from reality. Doctors say he could possibly become well enough to be tried if he took medication but he has refused. His defense lawyers argue he will not take medication because his delusions cause him to believe he is well.
Under Colorado law, a patient's doctor is able to ask a court to forcibly medicate the patient. But Joergensen's jail psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Thiele, declined to back that approach during Thursday's hearing.
Thiele said he did not think that Joergensen would qualify for forced medication at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, once he could be admitted there, because he does not think he poses a risk to himself or others while behind bars. The institute stopped taking new patients because of the pandemic, but it resumed admissions in the past few weeks, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Human Services, Madlynn Ruble, said.
The medication would have a “50-50” chance of working within two to six months, Thiele said. If he returned to jail after being considered restored and able to stand trial, his symptoms could return if he again refused to take medication, he said.
According to court documents, Joergensen told police he had started a fire on June 27, 2018, to burn trash on land where he was living in a camper despite a ban on open fires because of the dry conditions but later said he had been grilling in a permanent fire pit. He said he woke up from a nap, saw a fire burning in sage brush and burned himself as he tried to put it out.
The wildfire burned more than 156 square miles (404 square kilometers) east of Fort Garland, about 205 miles (330 kilometers) south of Denver.