By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A judge ordered bail set at $100,000 for a retired logger accused of a starting a fire at the house where his ex-wife and best friend were sleeping.
James R. Johnson, 65, was arrested near his rural Chehalis home this week for the June 1 blaze that heavily damaged the home on the 900 block of B Street in Centralia.
Police were suspicious of Johnson from beginning, according to charging documents.
Clint Brown said he awoke to the smoke alarm and when he opened his back door, he saw flames and smelled a very strong odor of gasoline. He closed the door, woke up Tamara Johnson who’d just recently moved in with him, and they got out uninjured.
Police were told James Johnson had been at the home just three days earlier, kicking on the door, making threats and demanding to speak with his ex-wife.
Officers visited his home and while he claimed he had not gone anywhere all night, the engine on a Chevrolet Aveo there was still warm, charging documents state.
He told the officer he and Tamara Johnson had been divorced since the 1990s, but retained and on-again off-again relationship that had ended a week before, according to the documents.
Police were told by his daughter he was upset about his ex-wife dating his friend, and he had been threatening to hurt himself.
A flashlight found at the scene was finger printed and tested, and late last month, Centralia Police Department detectives were notified it carried a DNA profile that matched James Johnson’s, according to the documents.
Johnson was charged yesterday with one count of first-degree arson.
He was brought before a judge yesterday afternoon, outfitted in red jail garb, handcuffed and shackled at his wrists and ankles.
Preliminary defense attorney Joely O’Rourke requested just $20,000 bail, noting the defendant owned Jim Johnson Logging for 25 years, has 12 grandchildren and his felony history is a quarter century old.
“He has very strong ties to the community, he’s known about the allegations since June,” O’Rourke told the judge in an attempt to show how unlikely a flight risk he would be.
Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Mark McClain noted Johnson had previous federal convictions for passport fraud and conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.
Lewis County Superior Court Judge Richard Brosey sided with McClain out of concern for public safety.
As the bail hearing moved to the question of any orders of no contact orders, O’Rourke told the judge her temporary client and his ex-wife, whom he’s known for 38 years, are together again.
“Since this allegation, he has reconciled with the alleged victim,” O’Rourke told the judge. “They’re living together.”
Judge Brosey said he didn’t care, and issued a no contact order between the two.
James Johnson has retained defense attorney Shane O’Rourke.
His arraignment is scheduled for next Thursday.
For background, read “Breaking news: Ex-husband jailed for arson, in Centralia house fire” from Wednesday December 3, 2014, here