Breaking News
More () »

Court files opinion on former southern Colorado wildfire suspect

Charges against Jesper Joergensen, who was accused of starting the 2018 Spring Creek Fire, were formally dismissed in April.

COSTILLA COUNTY, Colo. — The man accused of starting 2018's Spring Creek Fire in southern Colorado is no longer facing criminal charges after he was found incompetent multiple times. 

The 12th Judicial District Attorney at the time, Alonzo Payne, dismissed the charges in April.

In an opinion published last week, a judge on the Colorado Court of Appeals said there were ways to try to maintain the man's competency until his trial.

Jesper Joergensen, who is from Denmark and was in the country without proper documentation, was arrested June 28, 2018. He was initially charged with hundreds of counts of arson, according to court records.

RELATED: Charges dropped against man suspected of starting Spring Fire

The Spring Creek Fire erupted the day before his arrest. It burned for weeks, torched more than 108,000 acres and destroyed more than 140 homes.

Two months before the charges were dismissed against Joergensen, attorneys in Pueblo County -- where the state's mental health hospital is located -- filed an appeal against a lower court's decision.

A court order had declined to allow doctors to give Joergensen medication without his consent to restore his competency for trial. It concluded prosecutors failed to prove Joergensen would stay competent until his trial once he would be moved to the county jail from the mental health hospital.

Back then, Costilla County's sheriff testified the county jail didn't have the staff to give Joergensen his medication. The court determined that if he weren't forced to take it, Joergensen would likely stop taking the medication that would help him stay competent to stand trial.

In an opinion published in October, the court of appeals found the lower court's decision took it too far. The opinion said prosecutors didn't have to prove the suspect would stay competent until the trial began -- only that he was competent at the time of the hearing.

"Court of appeals said, 'hey lower courts, you are putting an extra burden,'" 9NEWS Legal Expert Whitney Traylor said. "It just says competent at the hearing. It doesn’t say through trial."

According to Traylor, this decision from the higher court creates a status quo for future competency cases. 

"If the lower court standard was the case, nobody would ever be competent for trial or they could say, 'hey, I am not taking my meds,'" Traylor said.

The court of appeals' opinion also said there were ways to maintain Joergensen's competency until trial.

The judge found state laws don't require a suspect to return to the local jail once he or she is restored to competency.

"Therefore, if Joergensen is restored to competency, the executive director of [Colorado Department of Human Services] — knowing that the Costilla County Sheriff may not have the ability to administer medications on an involuntary basis — may elect to keep Joergensen at [Colorado Mental Health Hospital in Pueblo] until the trial can be held," the opinion says.

Traylor and 9NEWS Legal Expert Scott Robinson both wondered why Payne dismissed the charges while the case was still pending in the court of appeals.

The San Luis Valley has a new district attorney, after Payne resigned in July amid an investigation into violations of the Victim Rights Act. Anne E. Kelly started the job two months ago.

Kelly said it is unclear legally whether the case against Joergensen can be refiled. She said Joergensen is not currently at the state hospital and she doesn't know his whereabouts.

RELATED: San Luis Valley gets new DA after previous one resigned amid controversy


Before You Leave, Check This Out