Ramstein airman guilty of arson at base dormitory
June 10, 2006
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A military jury Friday found a Ramstein-based airman guilty of conspiracy and arson at a court-martial for his role in a fire at a base dormitory last year.
The panel of eight Air Force officers found Airman Jason E. Estell not guilty of two charges of maliciously setting two other fires in the dormitory and charges of impeding the investigation of another airman.
Estell, 20, who is assigned to the 723rd Air Mobility Squadron, stood stoically as the jury delivered the verdict after deliberating for less than two hours. The jury planned to arrive with a sentence late Friday evening after testimony from witnesses for the defense and prosecution.
Estell, who pleaded not guilty to all the charges, had faced as much as 32 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
The jury acquitted Estell of setting two of three fires in the dormitory last September even though an Air Force special agent testified on Friday that Estell confessed during an Oct. 5 interview to taking part in the fires.
Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent Dave Yeager testified that Estell initially denied any involvement in the fires but later changed his story. Estell said he approached a friend, Airman 1st Class David A. Hill, about starting the fire because he wanted to get a female airman out of the dormitory so he could talk with her, Yeager said.
Estell said he stood lookout as Hill lit a candle and tossed it in a dormitory trash can, Yeager said. Hill later lit another fire in a dormitory storage room using a ball of paper soaked in lighter fluid while Estell stood nearby to see if anybody was coming.
Estell also confessed to starting a third fire the following day, Yeager said. He told Yeager he was out with friends Sept. 30 at the enlisted club on base.
At one point during the evening, he told the friends he was going to the bathroom but instead went back to his dormitory and set fire to a pile of laundry on a dryer.
Prosecutor Capt. Darren Eicken argued during the trial that Estell purposely set the fire to take heat off Hill, who was being questioned by Air Force investigators about the previous fires.
Hill, a witness for the prosecution, testified that Estell wanted to “scare a girl” living in the dorm by starting the fires and he agreed to help.
Hill, who was convicted last week of arson and conspiracy and sentenced to nine months in prison, said when they started to see smoke he ran upstairs to tell the residents there was a fire while Estell ran outside. Between 70 and 80 airmen live in the dormitory and about 35 were in their rooms at the time of the fire.
Nobody was injured, but the Air Force estimates the fires caused more than $18,000 in damages.