The woman accused of starting the largest wildfire in Colorado history can be released from a halfway house but must be monitored electronically, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Terry Barton, 38 (pictured, left), has pleaded not guilty to four federal charges, including arson and injuring a firefighter.
The former U.S. Forest Service employee is accused of starting the Hayman Fire near Lake George on June 8 that destroyed 133 homes and blackened 137,000 acres.
Besides releasing Barton, federal judge Richard Matsch surprised the prosecution by siding with Barton's defense attorneys, saying that Barton's "statements do not support the showing of criminal intent" and that "the government does not have an overwhelming case."
Prosecutors argued Barton should be remain in a halfway house as a condition of her release on $600,000 bail. They said allowing her to leave would place her under additional stress, and they questioned whether electronic monitoring is effective.
Matsch disagreed, saying he found the devices were usually effective. He also said Barton would probably be under more stress in a halfway house.
Matsch, who has been known as fair and direct, said that Barton had "strong community support" and had "shown strength of character."
He approved electronic monitoring by the court, and let her out of a halfway house so she could stay with friends and continue working at another job while awaiting trial.
Matsch said court officials would have to approve the home that
Barton will live in and said she could leave the halfway house as
soon as officials approved the home.
Her lawyer said Barton has at least two homes available to her.
He declined to give details.
As Barton left the courthouse, one of her friends said she is grateful for Barton's freedom.
"She gets to be back with her family with her daughters and with people who care about her and support her," said Barton's friend, Scott Riebel. "Now being able to go back, you know, she will be able to pay for the house and I understand things are getting really tight, especially getting the mortgage paid and everything."
But for Barton and her lawyer, the significant part is that, based on information so far, the judge made it clear the prosecution may have a tough time proving that she set the fire to intentionally burn down the forest, and three of four charges against Barton hinge on such proof, 7NEWS reported.
The Hayman Fire cost more than $39 million to fight. Long-term restoration of the area burned by the fire could top $150 million, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
- September 10, 2002: Barton Wants Out Of Halfway House
- September 5, 2002: Judge Rules Barton's Confession Admissible
- August 30, 2002: U.S. Attorney Says Barton's Confession Valid
- July 26, 2002: Sister: Hayman Arson Suspect Didn't Mean To Set Fire
- June 27, 2002: Barton Bonds Out, Released From Jail
- June 22, 2002: Prosecutors: Barton's Husband Never Wrote Any Letter
- June 20, 2002: Forestry Worker Pleads Innocent In Hayman Fire Case
- June 19, 2002: New Charges Filed Against Forestry Worker
- June 16, 2002: Forestry Worker Arrested For Hayman Fire
Copyright Copyright 2002 by TheDenverChannel.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.