Moab Folk Festival founder and director Melissa Schmaedick holds a rug that was destroyed during a November 2015 arson at Skyline Storage. [Moab Sun News file photo]

Convicted arsonist Edward “Dawson” Moddrelle is going to jail, but it’s up to him how much time he’ll spend there.

Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson this week ordered the 52-year-old Moab man to report to the Grand County Jail on Nov. 1, giving him more than five months to come up with a projected $3,500 in restitution. For every $50 that he pays his victims between now and then, he’ll spend one less day in jail.

The judge also imposed and then suspended a five-year prison sentence, and placed Moddrelle on court probation for three years.

Moddrelle pleaded guilty on April 19 to third-degree felony arson, admitting that he deliberately set fire to his girlfriend’s storage unit at Skyline Storage just before last Thanksgiving. No one was injured during the incident, but the flames quickly spread and damaged or destroyed 10 units at the 73-unit facility, which is located off U.S. Highway 191 about three miles south of downtown Moab.

“They did nothing wrong, and I hurt them,” Moddrelle said during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday, May 17. “That is not my character.”

The defendant said he would surrender any assets he owns to help compensate his victims for their losses, but he told the court that he has none to spare.

“I just wish I had them,” he said. “I would proudly give whatever I had to help.”

Grand County Public Defender Don Torgerson said his client regrets what he did, and is committed to making amends.

“Mr. Moddrelle wants to pay that restitution, and the victims certainly have a right to have that restitution paid,” he said.

The defense and the prosecution have calculated that Moddrelle owes $5,750 to the Moab Folk Festival, and $3,540 to Skyline Storage owner Diane Child; other amounts of restitution range from $294 to $1,750. However, Child and Moab Folk Festival founder and director Melissa Schmaedick said they aren’t sure that they’ll ever recoup the full value of everything they lost in the blaze.

Once Moddrelle’s jail time is up, they said, a civil lawsuit for further damages is perhaps their only other recourse. However, unlike the defendant – who was entitled to a public defender because he’s indigent – they told the Moab Sun News that neither of them are in a position financially to retain a lawyer.

“We can’t get court-appointed attorneys,” Child said.

“We can’t claim insolvency, unfortunately,” Schmaedick said.

The folk festival, which stored all of its equipment inside the unit just to the right of the one that Moddrelle’s girlfriend rented, bore the brunt of the damage, through a combination of fire, smoke and water.

According to Schmaedick, the blaze destroyed more than 85 percent of the festival’s equipment; it also wiped out several years of the group’s financial records that were on file inside the unit.

The festival is lucky if it can pay its production expenses, Schmaedick said, and if it does generate a profit, it’s less than $5,000. Therefore, she said, the nonprofit organization is in no position right now to replace everything that was lost in the fire – the costs of which could exceed $10,000.

“It took us roughly 14 years of a lot of saving and careful purchasing to purchase all of the equipment that was in that storage unit,” Schmaedick said.

To date, 22 festival donors have raised a little more than $1,600, and Schmaedick welcomes additional contributions to the festival’s verified GoFundMe account at

Child said she lost not only money as a result of Moddrelle’s actions, but clients who had been with her for many years. As an aside, she questioned Moddrelle’s ability to control his anger, and she said she fears what he might be capable of in the future.

“Beyond the damages, which were quite extensive to everyone in that particular building, what concerns me is the forethought and the planning that Mr. Moddrelle went to, to burn down his friend’s unit without any thought to the damage or the physical harm that could come to the people fighting the fire,” she said during Moddrelle’s April 19 change of plea hearing. “This was not a spontaneous act. He thought it through, and he still went ahead and did that without thinking of any of the damage or harm that he was doing to a whole bunch of innocent people.”

Skyline Storage tenant Bill Zanotti rented a unit about two units away from the one where the fire originated. Although he didn’t lose much in terms of value, Zanotti urged the court to understand just how far Child went out of way to help others who were affected by Moddrelle’s actions.

“To me, she went way beyond her responsibility, so I want you to consider that,” he said on April 19. “She’s a very sweet, kind person, and … she shouldn’t have gone through what she did go through.”

Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald told the court this week that although the storage structure itself was insured, none of the tenants’ items were covered.

While he did not ask the court to impose the maximum sentence of five years in state prison, Fitzgerald said that Moddrelle should be forced to spend some time behind bars.

“I think he does need to do a good chunk of jail time as his punishment,” he said.

Fitzgerald speculated that some of the victims in the case would like to see Moddrelle go away for the rest of his life, given their “well-placed anger.”

However, he said there are restrictions on the potential penalties, based on the defendant’s lack of recent criminal history. Until last year, Fitzgerald said, all of Moddrelle’s run-ins with the law occurred prior to 1998, when he seemingly turned his life around and recovered from substance abuse problems.

“Then, for all those years, he was a law-abiding, almost-everyday citizen,” he said.

At some point last year, though, Moddrelle began to use methamphetamine and other controlled substances, including psychotropic drugs.

Judge Anderson suggested it’s inevitable that most defendants with substance-abuse disorders will eventually relapse.

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves about the prospects for rehabilitation,” the judge said. “The truth is it doesn’t fix it in a substantial majority of cases.”

Moddrelle told the court that he used to be a civic-minded resident with family ties to local law enforcement. He said he served as a volunteer with Moab-area nonprofits, and even shaved his head for the nonprofit Locks of Love, which provides wigs to economically disadvantaged children who suffer from long-term hair loss.

But then he lost his previous job and got into a spat with his girlfriend, he said – all because he relapsed.

“My life spiraled out of control, but I’m coming to my senses,” he said. “I’ve put my feet back on the ground and sought help on my own.”

Moddrelle has since reconciled with his girlfriend, although Fitzgerald and others said they believe that she is a negative influence on his life. One of her ex-boyfriends is now in state prison, Fitzgerald said, while another one recently experienced a “bad” drug overdose.

“I’d say to Mr. Moddrelle, I’d want to pick another girlfriend,” Fitzgerald said.

If Schmaedick had her druthers, she said she probably would have pushed for up-front jail time and restitution. She said she can understand why the court is giving Moddrelle a chance to improve his life, but she doesn’t have much faith that he’ll make a successful recovery.

“I’m just really conflicted,” she said. “To me, the long-term health of him and our community is more important than restitution, even though the folk festival could really use the restitution.”

Child shared Schmaedick’s concerns.

“I wish I could believe he’ll get better,” she said. “I don’t like to see anyone sick. But with his current living arrangements and situation, I don’t see that happening.”

Judge Anderson said that Moddrelle’s case ultimately demonstrates the conflicts that are inherent to the country’s criminal justice system. Among other things, he said, the court must try to balance the appropriate punishment with the need for rehabilitation, while protecting the public and ensuring that victims in a case are adequately compensated.

“It’s really impossible to satisfy every purpose,” he said.

Dawson Moddrelle deliberately set fire to Skyline Storage units in 2015

They did nothing wrong, and I hurt them … That is not my character.