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Fort Lewis College professor found guilty of arson has sentencing continued

Defense given time to screen Bradley Clark for community corrections program

An associate professor at Fort Lewis College who faces up to six years in prison for starting a fire in the chip aisle at south City Market in Durango had his sentencing hearing postponed Thursday to allow him to be screened for a possible community corrections sentence.

Bradley Clark’s new sentencing date is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 18.

Clark

The screening will determine whether Clark is eligible for Hilltop House, which provides transitional housing to parolees and criminal offenders.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson asked Clark and his defense lawyers if they were interested in having Clark screened for Hilltop House, and he said he was interested.

Prosecutors objected to continuing the hearing, saying requests for community corrections usually happen at the time of conviction. But the judge decided to issue a continuance.

“I want to have all options available,” Carlson said.

Clark faces probation or up to six years in prison. Depending on his screening with community corrections, a third option of time at Hilltop House could be considered.

Clark, 48, was found guilty of second-degree arson, attempt to commit first-degree arson and criminal mischief resulting in $20,000 to $100,000 in damage in August.

It took nearly four hours for the jury of three men and nine women to reach a verdict of guilty on all three counts.

The Oct. 5, 2019, blaze resulted in more than $76,000 in lost merchandise at the grocery store.

The fire broke out on aisle 7 of the store around 8:05 p.m., creating a haze of smoke throughout the business.

Video surveillance shows Clark pushing a cart from one location to the next, collecting two kinds of canned chili, lemons, hot dogs, sausages, buns, cheese and enchiladas. At the end of his shopping trip, he goes down aisle 7, disappears off camera for about a minute, and then returns to the front of the store to check out.

A shadow of Clark and his cart can be seen near the point of ignition for about 46 seconds, the amount of time prosecutors said it took to use a cigarette lighter to start a bag of tortilla chips on fire.

Clark had been arrested on suspicion of lighting a dumpster fire on Sept. 12, 2007, at his townhome complex, but no formal charges were brought up and the case was dismissed.

Clark was briefly considered as a suspect in a fire set at the college in 2008. In that case, someone set fire to a professor’s door, but ultimately, there wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest, a college spokeswoman said in a previous interview.

The college did not immediately respond to an inquiry Thursday about whether Clark remains employed at the college; a staff directory lists him as an associate professor.

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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