Last week, a Mendocino County Superior Court judge ruled that Devin Lamar Johnson, who is accused of setting the blaze known as the Hopkins Fire, will go to trial in Marin County.
The judge’s March 8 order states in part “this court has determined the proper court for the trial in this matter is the county of Marin and the matter is ordered transferred to that venue forthwith for trial setting.”
All parties are scheduled to meet Wednesday to schedule a jury trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
The Hopkins Fire destroyed at least 30 homes and scorched 257 acres of hillside bordered by the Russian River and Lake Mendocino. About 200 people were evacuated but no injuries were reported.
Prosecutors contend they have surveillance footage showing Johnson at the fire’s point of origin and fleeing as smoke develops.
Investigators add that a photo from a local photographer shows Johnson watching the fire from the Moore Street Bridge, which crosses a dried-up section of the river.
He was arrested two days after the fire was started.
Johnson’s defense attorney filed a motion in late 2021 requesting a change of venue.
The defense’s motion references the region’s sensitivity to wildfires and Calpella’s proximity to Ukiah, which is Mendocino County’s most-populated area and likely main source for jurors.
It notes many area residents supported Calpella, and emphasizes the fire’s extensive media coverage and references on social media and law enforcement websites.
Jury selection took place Jan. 24 and Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Heidi Larson said several potential jurors were familiar with the fire, paving the way for a change in venue.
Court officials narrowed down potential locations to Marin and Colusa counties.
According to court records, the defense favored Marin County, while the prosecution wanted Colusa County.
The latter’s courthouse is about 95 miles and just under two hours east of Ukiah, where proceedings have taken place since Johnson was arrested days after the fire.
The Marin County courthouse is off Highway 101 on San Rafael Drive ‒ about 90 minutes from the Mendocino County courthouse in Ukiah.
Both parties presented arguments last week before Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder, who then ruled in favor of Marin County.
During a Feb. 21 hearing, he suggested Marin County had a larger pool of potential jurors.
Sonoma, Lake or Humboldt counties were referenced during early discussions about a new venue, but Larson said last month that those options were ultimately ruled out because they’re too close to Mendocino County.
You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at email@example.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi
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