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updated: 6/21/2011 1:40 PM

Split verdict in 2009 Elgin arson case

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  • James R. Beavers

      James R. Beavers

 
 

A judge Tuesday acquitted a 33-year-old Elgin man of intentionally setting fire to his parents' home in November 2009 while his then-2-year-old son was inside.

But Judge Timothy Sheldon found James R. Beavers Jr. guilty of felony arson for burning his girlfriend's clothes and underwear in a backyard firepit and fighting with rescue crews who tried to put out the fire on Cumberland Drive on the city's west side the afternoon of Nov. 19, 2009.

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"The truth prevailed," said an angry Maria Beavers, who testified during the two-day bench trial that her son didn't mean to burn the house down.

Kane County prosecutors argued that Beavers found out his girlfriend and mother of his six children cheated on him, so he got drunk and began burning all of her possessions he could find on Nov. 18.

Beavers got drunk again the next day and the fire broke out when only he and the 2-year-old were home. A firefighter plucked the toddler from a high chair as smoke swirled around him.

Assistant State's Attorney Mark Stajdohar argued that Beavers changed his story several times and that investigators determined the fire was not mechanical or electrical or caused by nature, such as lightning.

But defense attorney Liam Dixon said his client didn't know what happened and was merely trying to help police by offering theories, one of which was that he took a fire starting stick inside the house to light a cigarette and tossed it on the bed, which sparked the fire.

"Stupid? Yes. Criminal? No," Dixon said.

Dixon also noted that Beavers called 9-1-1 and worked with his mom to find the fire, which started in a bedroom he shared with his girlfriend at his parents' home.

Dixon stressed that no accelerant was used to start the fire and police had to remind Beavers that he called police because he had no memory of it.

Sheldon agreed, finding Beavers not guilty of aggravated arson, the most serious of all the charges. It carried a sentence of 6 to 30 years.

Despite the split verdict, Beavers' legal woes are far from over.

He is due for sentencing on Sept. 8 and faces up to seven years for arson and fighting with authorities.

Beavers also could face consecutive sentencing on a batch of charges -- aggravated DUI, violation of an order of protection and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon -- that he was accused of in April 2010 while free on bond for the arson case.

He was convicted earlier this year and could face up to 10 years on the weapons charge.

Stajdohar will push for a significant sentence based on Beavers' criminal history, which also includes at least two previous DUI convictions, along with convictions for domestic battery, felony forgery, obstruction of justice, driving on a revoked license and criminal trespass to vehicle, according to court records.

"He is obviously a danger to society," Stajdohar said. "He is obviously a danger to the mother of his children and his parents."

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