Jacksonville Arson Suspect Denied Pretrial Release For a Second Time

By Benjamin Cox on January 17, 2024 at 1:27pm

A Jacksonville man accused of setting fire to a North Church Street garage in December has been denied any pretrial release a second time by the Morgan County Court.

39-year old Dustin J. Jones of the 300 block of West Lafayette Avenue appeared for a status hearing in Morgan County Court on Tuesday. Jones has been charged with Class 2 felony arson of personal property and Class 4 felony theft.

Jones is alleged to have set fire to a garage at 606 North Church Street on the morning of December 3rd.

Jones made his first appearance for a pretrial detention hearing on December 5th, at which point Circuit Judge Chris Reif denied Jones’ release from the Morgan County Detention Facility, deeming Jones a community threat due to the nature of the crime.

Under the current SAFE-T Act, each time a detained individual’s offense comes before the court on a status hearing, the defendant has a right to request pretrial release.

State’s Attorney Gray Noll says that today Jones’ defense counsel asked for his pretrial release: “Mr. Jones’ attorney, Devin Vaughn with the Public Defender’s Office requested that the subject of his release be revisited. Mr. Vaughn presented the court with information that the defendant would be allowed to reside with his parents and basically requested that he be placed under house arrest at his parents’ residence. That request was denied, and then, the court specifically found that the defendant still may pose a danger to the safety of the community or a specific person based upon the nature of the offense.”

There have been at least 9 suspicious fires within a 3-block radius of the North Church address set since August of 2022, and 3 suspicious fires alone at the same address between May and December 2023.

If convicted on the single arson count, Jones could face up to 3-7 years in prison.

Noll says he’s aware of the suspicious fires, but he can’t comment on whether or not more charges are coming: “I know that there have been a number of incidents of arson in and around this neighborhood. I can’t really comment on any sort of pending investigation, whether there will be more charges pending or not. But I certainly am aware, as is the public that there has been numerous accounts.”

Morgan County Judge Chris Reif once again denied Jones’ pretrial release, saying that no matter the address or any other tool at the court’s disposal for pretrial monitoring, it still could not stop another arson from taking place.

Jones is next due in court for further status on January 30th in efforts to set a possible trial date.