Appellate Court Upholds Pequot Lakes Man’s Arson Conviction
A Pequot Lakes man appealing his first-degree arson conviction has lost his case in the Minnesota State Court of Appeals.
According to court records, Steven Hamilton Whitney, 40, filed for an appellate court appeal in March 2016. Whitney argued that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he used a flammable liquid as defined by state statutes.
Whitney has been serving a five years and seven month prison sentence since 2015 for first degree arson using a flammable material. Whitney plead not guilty during the trial to two felony arson charges. He was acquitted of the other charge in October.
The original ruling found that Whitney purchased and pumped a small amount of gasoline into a gas can. He then drove to a house that he formerly lived in and started a fire near the garage. The fire charred the garage and spread about 30 feet to a nearby fence before the fire department arrived and put out the fire.
An investigator at the scene noticed a partially melted gas can and noted an odor of gasoline. Witnesses at the scene were able to identify Whitney as the perpetrator. Surveillance video at a gas station also showed Whitney purchasing gasoline.
Whitney contends that the state did not meet its burden of proof because it failed to prove that gasoline’s vapor pressure met the vapor-pressure requirement in the definition of a flammable liquid.
The appellate court judge noted that while the officer did not testify to the vapor pressure, he did testify that it was a flammable liquid, which was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that it was flammable material.