Verdict looms in Sockeye Fire trial

A half-dozen jurors are set to decide whether an Anchorage couple started a costly Willow wildfire in 2015, known as the Sockeye Fire.

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Over three weeks, the jury has heard testimony and examined evidence in the trial of Greg Imig and Amy DeWitt in a Palmer courtroom. The husband and wife are charged with criminally negligent burning for allegedly letting a smoldering brush fire escape a burn pit on their recreational property.

On Wednesday, state prosecutor Eric Senta recapped all the evidence presented during the trial, evidence the state says proves the couple allowed embers to creep through dry moss and eventually burn thousands of acres.

Senta told the jurors they should convict Imig and Dewitt.

“They were aware of the concept of creepage, they were aware of the concept of smoldering, they were aware of the concept that that specific moss had burned in the past, yet still turned their backs on it,” Senta said. “Mr. Imig and Ms. Dewitt caused the Sockeye Fire, and it was caused by their recklessness, and it was caused by their negligence, and they are guilty of all the crimes as charged.”

But defense attorney Kevin Fitzgerald said the state is wrong.

The defense presented expert witnesses — including a former Anchorage Fire investigator — who refute the claim that the blaze started on Imig and Dewitt’s property.

“Throughout your deliberations, you should permit neither sympathy nor prejudice to influence you, nor may potential public opinion impact your decision,” Fitzgerald said. “Both Ms. Dewitt and Mr. Imig still have that cloak, that presumption of innocence, even today, and even now, and it remains with them until you go into the jury deliberation and begin to deliberate.”

The jurors are expected to start deliberations Thursday.

There’s still a chance the Sockeye Fire could land in civil court with a lawsuit from the victims, dozens of whom lost their homes.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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