Fifth District Magistrate Judge Jennifer Haemmerle says a jury trial for the man accused of starting the Sharps Fire has been rescheduled to Oct. 29, following a pretrial conference Monday.
Pretrial conferences in Magistrate Court are typical done off the record and informally, making it difficult to determine the conclusions of individual cases, but Haemmerle said in an interview Monday that the case will be continued to a jury trial on Oct. 29 as a “restorative justice conference” continues to be sought in front of 5th District Magistrate Judge Mark Ingram. Though Haemmerle is not involved in the mediation discussions, she said the conference was “ongoing” and that there would be a status conference sometime before the jury trial is scheduled to begin to go over any new developments from the conference.
Haemmerle originally pitched the idea of a restorative justice conference at a hearing on March 4 with Jensen’s defense attorney, Doug Nelson, and prosecutor Angela Nelson. Jensen was not present. Haemmerle described the conference as something typically done in juvenile cases and has never been done in Blaine County. At the time, Haemmerle said it could be an opportunity to bring various affected parties to the table to find an alternative resolution beyond criminal prosecution.
In a stipulation to cotinue jury trial jointly filed by the defense and prosecution on March 20, the parties requested that the trial be reset.
“The basis for this stipulation is counsel for the defendant and the state are working on holding a restorative justice conference with the Honorable Mark Ingram,” the document states.
Originally, both parties requested the jury trial to be continued to July 8, but because the conference is still ongoing, the trial needed to be reset once again.
The Idaho Mountain Express reached out to Ingram to request further information on the details of this particular restorative justice conference, including whether the media could be present and who would be invited to participate, but as of June 4, a court clerk said the conference had not been scheduled. A court clerk on Tuesday said she had emailed Ingram in regard to the case, but no response was received by press deadline.
Jensen is charged with the misdemeanor crime of firing timber or prairie land, after he reportedly went to the Blaine county Sheriff’s Office and confessed that he started the fire by shooting at an exploding target. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Jensen reported the fire to 911 after it started on July 29. He was issued a summons on Aug. 2 and could face a maximum penalty of six months in jail, a $1,000 fine and restitution if convicted.
The Sharps Fire was ignited 6 miles east of Bellevue and burned 65,000 acres over two weeks.