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Judge won’t toss case against man accused of sparking massive southern Utah wildfire

Posted at 2:10 PM, Sep 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-30 19:55:04-04

PROVO, Utah -- A judge has ordered the man accused of starting the massive wildfire that torched tens of thousands of acres near Brian Head and forced more than 1,000 people to be evacuated to proceed to trial.

Defense attorneys for Robert Lyman asked the judge to quash his bindover on a misdemeanor charge of reckless burning. They argued it doesn't meet the legal definition of "recklessness," but his behavior was instead "negligent."

"Did he screw up? Did he not do enough? But was he trying to put out the fire? Was he trying to prevent fire? It’s evident in every respect and no facts they’ve presented indicate anything other than his mental state was one of trying, albeit futile and perhaps negligently, and perhaps stupidly," Lyman's attorney, Andrew Deiss, argued. "He was trying with good intent to do something."

Deputy Iron County Attorney Shane Klenk asked the judge to allow the case to proceed to trial so a jury could decide.

"What an ordinary person would do. Not necessarily what Mr. Lyman would do, but what an ordinary person would do," he said.

Judge James Brady rejected the defense request and said Lyman would go on trial in mid-December.

"This court doesn’t determine recklessness. I simply determine whether or not the evidence was sufficient that the case should go forward and allow a jury to consider those facts," he said.

Recklessness appears to be a key word at his trial. The judge indicated he would give a special instruction to a jury on what the legal definition means.

Lyman's defense attorney argued a number of motions ahead of his upcoming trial, including an attempt to ban a jury from seeing photos or video of the fire and prohibiting news cameras from being in court during the trial.

FOX 13 is opposing the defense motion to restrict cameras from the trial, arguing that court proceedings are open to the public and TV cameras allow for a more accurate presentation of what happens in the courtroom.

"Aside from the fact that the argument troublingly presumes the empaneled jury will ignore this Court’s instructions to avoid media coverage during its service, generalized assertions of potential prejudice are never sufficient to overcome the presumptive right of access..." FOX 13 attorney David Reymann wrote in a court filing.

The judge did not consider the motions, giving the defense time to respond to FOX 13's attorney before ruling.

Lyman is facing a class A misdemeanor charge of reckless burning, accused of starting the 71,000-acre fire that destroyed cabins, buildings and forced the evacuation of more than 1,000. He is also facing a charge of burning during a closed fire season. Lyman has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Read FOX 13's legal filing here: