A Fort Lewis College associate professor who was convicted of arson for setting bags of chips on fire at south City Market in Durango was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison.
Bradley Clark stared intently as the judge handed down the sentence. He then hung his head as the bailiffs remanded him into custody.
Clark faced up to six years in prison, or probation. Sixth Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson said she felt Clark presents a danger to the community, and did not grant him probation.
“I have concerns about him remaining in the community,” she said.
Carlson said sentencing was tough because the defense and prosecution presented very different versions of Clark.
“I feel like I’m hearing about two different people,” she said.
Clark maintained his innocence and showed no remorse.
Prosecutors mentioned two past occasions in which Clark was accused of arson. One involved a dumpster fire in which he faced arrest but was never charged in 2007. In 2008, Clark was briefly considered as a suspect in a fire set at the college, but there wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.
“Mr. Clark is not the world’s most unlucky man being accused of arson three times,” said Sean Murray, appellate deputy district attorney. “He set those fires.”
Murray said Clark needed to be sentenced to prison so that the community understands there are consequences for committing crimes like arson.
The defense argued that Clark should be allowed probation because he has been out on bail for the past two years without incident. With COVID-19 impacting the court system, it took nearly two years for Clark’s case to be heard.
Clark’s defense team tried to downplay the fire, saying there were no victims.
“This was a tortilla chip fire,” said defense attorney Katie Whitney. “We don’t have a human victim. There’s a lot of information about what could have happened, but the fire was put out in two minutes.”
Clark’s wife, Terisa Clark, was given an opportunity to speak about how the trial has affected her family.
“Our son needs his father,” she said. “His children need him in their life.”
Thursday’s sentencing hearing was a continuation from an earlier hearing. Carlson postponed the initial sentencing hearing to give Clark the opportunity to be screened for Hilltop House, which provides transitional housing to parolees and criminal offenders.
Carlson said community corrections denied Clark’s eligibility for Hilltop House, because he is too much of a concern and it wouldn’t be able to provide the proper supervision.
At the hearing, Clark apologized for sending an email to two former colleagues at FLC who were called in as character witnesses during Clark’s trial. The night of his sentencing, Clark sent an email to his colleagues that said he hoped they’d die.
Efforts to confirm whether Clark is still employed with FLC were not immediately successful Thursday, but he was still listed in the staff directory.
Clark, 49, 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.
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.
Clark plans to appeal his conviction, and has already hired appellant counsel.