Benjamin Gilmore and his wife, Rebekah, leave the 8th Judicial District courtroom Thursday as the jury begins deliberations on seven felonies including attempted murder and arson. / Robert Allen /The Coloradoan
FORT COLLINS - A former Occupy Fort Collins protester accused of burning down a four-story Old Town building waits for a verdict in his second trial on the same charges.
Benjamin Gilmore, 31, faces seven felonies including attempted first-degree murder and arson of Penny Flats in connection with the October 2011 fire that prosecutors said caused about $10 million in damage and threatened 21 people's lives.
The last trial ended in a mistrial in September 2012 with a jury that couldn't come to consensus after six days.
Thursday's closing arguments lasted several hours, with the courtroom gallery nearly full and an equal number of people supporting both prosecutors and the defense. The jury of seven men and five women began deliberating at 3 p.m.
Public Defender Norm Townsend said prosecutors framed Gilmore as a "domestic terrorist" and were wrong to assert that the one-handed beekeeper would be able to sneak into the under-construction building at Mason and Cherry streets in the dark by climbing up scaffolding to the second floor while holding a fuel can.
The building was about a block from the protests, which were part of a nationwide movement against social and economic inequality. Gilmore took an active role and spoke for the activists through interviews and at a Fort Collins City Council meeting.
Townsend said evidence pointed to Gerardo "Clutter" Salazar, a drifter in his 20s who'd been part of the movement and openly told people he started the fire. He died before the second trial. Investigators, despite the two years leading up to the second trial, chose not to test a cigarette and lighter found on the scene for DNA and instead cherry-picked evidence, Townsend said.
Second Assistant District Attorney Emily Humphrey said investigators went through "hundreds and hundreds" of leads but the evidence pointed to Gilmore. His Rolex, with his name engraved on the back, was found in two pieces on separate floors near the scaffolding and was again presented as key evidence in the second trial.
Gilmore had maintained in the case that he lost the watch and it may have been stolen before the Oct. 24 fire. On Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Shaun Reinhart showed the court a gallery of photos of Gilmore wearing the watch until shortly before the fire, then wearing gloves over bandages with no watch afterward.
The defense argued the burns were from Gilmore's attempt at fire spinning, a type of performance art where flaming sticks are twirled in the air.
Charges against Gilmore include two counts of attempted murder, two of arson, two of criminal mischief and one count of burglary. He is free on bond and continues to work as a beekeeper and co-owner of Copoco's Honey in north Fort Collins.
Gilmore's trial last year lasted more than a month and ended in September but had a couple of breaks along the way. The first trial cost Gilmore nearly $100,000, his family previously said, as he used a Denver attorney for his defense.
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