COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) – A judge in Columbus County has declared a mistrial in the case of arson against Allen Strickland. Strickland will have to be tried again.
Strickland was charged in 2009 with fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house and attempting to obtain property by false pretense. He is accused of setting fire to the home that former State Senator R.C. Soles bought him.
Monday, the judge dismissed one juror for a medical reason and replaced them with an alternate. The judge also called a recess at the start of the day to take care of a legal issue that was described as "very serious."
That issue turned out to be about evidence. The defense accused the Tabor City Police Department of withholding a taped interview where Strickland names who he thinks burned down his house. The judge said he found it concerning and disturbing the TCPD have this interview and never turned it over to the SBI or DA's office in the past two years.
The jury was expected back at 1pm, but because of this new evidence the judge declared a mistrial. The judge hopes to re-do the trial some time in July.
Last week, insurance adjuster Craig Graham testified in court and said he met with Strickland in August 2009 to provide him proof of loss papers to fill out. Strickland's lawyer, however, argued his client never filled out the papers. Prosecutors say Strickland went to jail shortly after the incident and couldn't complete the forms.
Strickland had an $80,000 outdoor insurance policy (the maximum), and the fire caused $76,000 worth of damage to the outside of the home. He had a $42,000 indoor policy, which is the maximum for inside the house.
During the time of the incident, Strickland said former Senator RC Soles agreed to pay for the house if he signed up for school and started going to class.
Strickland told authorities he was being targeted by an arsonist and he feared his life was in jeopardy. He claimed he had to jump out of a second floor window to escape the flames. Investigators, however, believe Strickland was responsible for starting the fires, based on evidence they found.
Last Tuesday, firefighters from the Tabor City Volunteer Fire Department testified that they could smell gas around the couch and window of the home. They noted the bed had been made when they arrived to the fire around 4 in the morning on that day. They did not see Strickland until later in the morning around daybreak.
SBI Special Agent Phillip Wynn also said it looked like someone had poured gasoline on the floor and couch of Strickland's home. He said lab results showed that there was some type of substance used to ignite fires on the couch and floor.
The jury also listened to the 911 call Strickland made to report the fire. Prosecutors say he was not coughing and it didn't sound like he had just left the inside of a burning home.
WECT's Gavin Johnson has been covering this trial from the start. He will have reaction tonight on WECT News at 5.
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