A woman who was accused of setting a wildfire near the Big Sandy Rancheria to distract law enforcement from finding her wanted boyfriend has been found not guilty of arson in Fresno County Superior Court.
Jurors deliberated about three hours on Thursday before finding Kiyona Shari Beecher, 22, not guilty of a charge that could have resulted in up to six years in prison if she had been convicted, said Fresno defense lawyer Ernest Scott Kinney.
After the verdict, Beecher was released from the Fresno County Jail.
The fire happened on the afternoon of June 19 along Jose Basin Road, about half mile from the rancheria in Auberry. The fire burned about a half acre, Kinney said.
Fresno defense lawyer Ernest Scott Kinney said the evidence revealed that relatives of the woman who testified against Kiyona Shari Beecher were in a feud with Beecher’s boyfriend.
During the three-day trial, a key witness for the prosecution was a woman who testified that Beecher told her that she set the fire so her boyfriend, who was being sought on gun charges, could get away from law enforcement, Kinney said. The woman testified that Beecher appeared under the influence and smelled like heavy smoke, Kinney said.
But Kinney told the jury that at the time of the fire Beecher was on another road headed to the rancheria to pick up her children from a preschool program. He argued that if Beecher was under the influence, the program’s staff would have called police and not let Beecher drive off with her children.
Kinney said evidence also revealed that relatives of the woman who testified against Beecher were in a feud with her boyfriend. In addition, no one saw Beecher set the fire, nor was there any physical evidence to link her to it, he said. Investigators found a “fresh boot print” at the crime scene, but it did not match Beecher’s foot size, Kinney said.