For more than a year, convicted arsonist Edward “Dawson” Moddrelle walked around as a free man, while failing to comply with a single term or condition of his May 2016 sentence.
Yet a series of seemingly minor probation violations landed the 53-year-old Moab man last week in the custody of the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison – a much different fate than he originally faced.
Seventh District Judge Lyle R. Anderson revoked Moddrelle’s probation on Tuesday, June 20, and sentenced him to an indeterminate term of up to five years in state prison, after Moddrelle admitted to using methamphetamine and marijuana. At the same time, the judge denied Grand County Public Defender Don Torgerson’s request for a furlough that would have given Moddrelle several days to get his affairs in order.
“I’m just out of options with you, Mr. Moddrelle,” Judge Anderson said.
Moddrelle pleaded guilty in April 2016 to a reduced charge of third-degree felony arson, admitting that he deliberately set fire to his then-girlfriend’s storage unit at Skyline Storage just before Thanksgiving 2015. No one was injured during the incident, but flames from the blaze quickly spread, and 10 units at the 73-unit facility were damaged or destroyed by the fire and smoke, or water that firefighters used to douse the conflagration.
At the time of his sentencing, the judge suspended Moddrelle’s prison sentence and instead ordered the defendant to pay more than $23,449 in restitution, linking the payments to the length of his jail sentence: For every $50 that Moddrelle was supposed to pay his victims between the sentencing and the day he reported to jail, he would spend one less day behind bars.
Yet in the 14 months between his sentence and his most recent hearing, Moddrelle paid just $270.75 in restitution, and his balance has since increased to more than $24,038, according to court records. Although Moddrelle was employed at the time of his most recent hearing, his probation officer reported that Moddrelle did not make an effort to regularly pay his court-ordered fines, fees and restitution.
Skyline Storage owner Diane Child, who died in February following a three-year battle with cancer, was among those he was ordered to compensate, yet neither she nor her estate has received any portion of that $3,540 to date. Child’s estate has put the business on the market, and the estate is now paying more money to insure the storage units, according to her sister, Kathi Child.
“Her insurance on the sheds went up a tremendous amount,” Kathi Child told the Moab Sun News. “It almost doubled – that’s the ongoing consequence of (Moddrelle’s) actions to Diane’s estate.”
Other mandated restitution includes more than $9,374 to a local couple, and $5,750 to the Moab Folk Festival, which rented a storage unit directly to the right of the one that Moddrelle ignited.
The fire caused extensive damage to the festival’s greenroom furniture, equipment, rugs and a majority of its historic files. To date, however, the festival has not received any restitution, and Moab Folk Festival Executive Director Melissa Schmaedick said that she and others have little hope that they will receive that money.
“I think that everyone has pretty much accepted that any type of restitution is pretty much a lost cause at this point,” Schmaedick told the Moab Sun News.
Moddrelle skipped original jail sentence
Restitution aside, Moddrelle failed to serve any jail time, according to his probation officer. Although he showed up at the jail last fall, as required, he was turned away because the facility hadn’t received a copy of his commitment order from the court.
Moddrelle never returned voluntarily to jail until he was recently arrested for the probation violations, and his probation officer said Moddrelle was in “blatant disregard” of the court’s orders.
Moddrelle claims that he suffers from seizures due to an accident that, he says, occurred shortly before his May 2016 sentencing, and the Grand County Jail has voiced “grave concerns” about housing him, according to the probation officer’s report.
Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said that Moddrelle may have been under the impression that he won’t face any consequences for his actions, based on the sequence of events leading up to the June 20 hearing.
“I think he feels brazen that … based on other hearings, he thinks that nothing is going to happen to him because we’re (too) nervous about his seizures, et cetera, to put him in jail, and so … I think that he’s felt that he’s had a free pass at this point,” Fitzgerald said.
Although Fitzgerald previously supported a plea agreement that recommended probation and jail time in lieu of incarceration, he asked the judge last week to send Moddrelle to prison, citing allegations from the probation officer’s latest report.
Among other things, the probation officer reported that a woman called the Adult Parole and Probation (AP&P) Office and alleged that Moddrelle threatened to kill her. Moddrelle also told the woman that she should “kill herself” and stated that he was going to “light her property on fire,” according to the probation officer’s report.
Fitzgerald said the probation officer’s findings suggest that Moddrelle has grown more brazen in his behavior and poses a danger to the community.
“The state looks at that fairly seriously because his underlying charge is that he burned down a storage unit because he was mad at his previous girlfriend,” Fitzgerald said. “He did, in fact, throw some sort of explosive device or something that set the (unit) on fire, and he caused significant damage … And this was all because apparently, he didn’t like his girlfriend. The court might remember, this was actually on video.”
Torgerson said his client does not admit that he made the latest alleged threats. Instead, he claimed that the woman and other people were threatening Moddrelle and trying to get him into trouble.
He said that Moddrelle admits to having a longstanding drug problem, and that he tested positive for two controlled substances on two separate occasions.
“So he was essentially ‘dirty’ twice for marijuana and methamphetamine each time,” he said.
Moddrelle, he said, struggles with a head injury that causes seizures, which make him “obviously not a great candidate” for jail. And despite court records to the contrary, Torgerson said that Moddrelle was making “some progress” on probation.
However, the AP&P report makes no mention of any progress.
“His performance a year later is still poor, as well as his prognosis for the future,” the report says.
Schmaedick said she believes that Judge Anderson was kind when he initially gave Moddrelle room to make amends and change his behavior.
“But clearly, he hadn’t changed that at the last hearing I was at (in March),” she said.
Prison is likely a better place for Moddrelle than the community at large, Schmaedick said, and she’s glad that the court took the latest violations seriously.
“But whether or not he comes back in five years and is a different person – I’m skeptical,” she said.
Kathi Child had previously expressed disappointment that Moddrelle had not faced any consequences for his actions.
“I guess I’m a little bit relieved that he’s not still out there,” she said.
But mostly, Kathi Child said, she’s “really sad” that Moddrelle didn’t get the help he needs to turn his life around.
“I just hope in some way that somehow he can get his life together, and if he gets that chance in prison, that will be good,” she said.
Victims still haven’t received more than $24,000 in restitution
I think he feels brazen that … based on other hearings, he thinks that nothing is going to happen to him because we’re (too) nervous about his seizures, et cetera, to put him in jail, and so … I think that he’s felt that he’s had a free pass at this point.