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CA: Insufficient evidence to file charges against summer 2020 arson suspect

CA: Insufficient evidence to file charges against summer 2020 arson suspect
Posted at 11:26 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 23:26:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- No charges will be filed against a suspect in the arson at the United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters last summer in Richmond.

This was one of several fires that were set during the riots of the social justice movement.

Richmond's Commonwealth's Attorney, Colette McEachin said that there is insufficient evidence to proceed and no one will likely be prosecuted for one of the largest fires set during the riots and peaceful protests in 2020.

Many protests began peacefully but turned into chaos and destruction. Several fires were set, including dumpsters, a Rite Aid store and a GRTC bus.

However, the United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters in the Museum District was the biggest individual loss.

According to Richmond Fire, more than $1.2 million in damage was done.

Investigators identified and questioned a subject in the arson and sought to bring charges. However, her office could not file them.

McEachin provided the following statement explaining why charges could not be filed:

Richmond fire investigators identified and questioned a suspect in last summer’s arson fire at the United Daughters of the Confederacy headquarters and sought to bring charges against that person. But Richmond's commonwealth's attorney says there is insufficient evidence to proceed, and no one likely will be prosecuted for one of the largest fires set during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

Given the darkness, use of masks and overall chaotic conditions, we were only able to identify one individual,” Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin said Tuesday after city fire officials referred questions to her office. “Upon further review of the evidence, we did not believe that we would be able to meet our legal burden of proof at trial, and so we declined prosecution of a potential arson charge.

CBS6 legal analyst Todd Stone, a former prosecutor himself, shared his assessment of the decision made by the Commonwealth's Attorney. He said that he understands the decision not to move forward with the charges.

A prosecutor’s burden of proof in a criminal case is much higher than that of a civil case. Consequently, the evidence must prove each element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is lacking with respect to any element, the decision to not charge is often the most prudent and responsible decision to make. A case charged with insufficient evidence can lead to wasted resources and is inconsistent with a prosecutors duty. Additionally, an unsuccessful prosecution could prevent a future prosecution (because of double jeopardy) should stronger evidence ever emerge. A prosecutor is required to exercise diligence and discretion at all stages of a prosecution, including the decision of whether to bring any charges at all. The chaos, darkness and lack of connection between independent actors can make evidence collection very difficult and it’s not surprising that there might be no prosecutable case under the circumstances.

In total last year, Richmond Fire estimates that nearly $3.3 million in fire damage occurred.