May 1, 2015 1:13 PM by News Staff
The United States' Attorney's Office has moved to dismiss federal charges against a man accused of starting the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park last year because two key witnesses have died.
Keith Matthew Emerald, 33, of Columbia is charged with starting the Rim Fire, which burned more than 250,000 acres, including parts of Yosemite National and destroyed nearly a dozen homes. Emerald was charged after he made, what prosecutors alleged was a false statement to federal investigators regarding the origin of the fire.
In its motion to dismiss, filed Friday, the government advised the United States District Court that two witnesses had unexpectedly died in recent months. The first witness, characterized as critical to the case, died in a workplace accident in February. The second witness, the helicopter pilot who rescued Emerald from the fire, died from cardiac arrest in March.
"I understand that the government's motion to dismiss will be frustrating to some," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said in a release. "However, when circumstances change after indictment, and our judgment is that a case is no longer likely to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it is our obligation to the defendant and to the Court to dismiss that case."