116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man faces up to 25 years in prison for setting a fire at Hawthorne Hills Apartments that killed one man and seriously injured another in 2019.
Dallas Tullis, 26, originally charged with first-degree murder, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Linn County District Court to a lesser charge of attempted murder and first-degree arson.
Tullis, who planned to claim diminished capacity at trial, admitted he set the fire in his apartment with an intent to cause the death of Steven Craig Balvin, 65, who lived across the hall from Tullis, and injure others in the building on Feb. 28, 2019.
Balvin was found in the hallway, attempting to get out of the building, but he died from injuries related to the fire, Assistant Linn County Attorney Rena Schulte said earlier this month.
Another tenant, Justine Thomas, now 57, also was injured in the fire, which resulted in permanent damage to her lungs, Schulte said.
A criminal complaint said investigators interviewed a number of witnesses in the building who said Tullis had several conflicts with other tenants, including Balvin, and with apartment management in the weeks before the fire.
The apartment complex, at 2255 C St. SW, had significant fire, heat and smoke damage, which displaced all residents, police said at the time.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner during the plea told Tullis the agreement calls for running the two charges concurrently for a total of 25 years in prison. He also said the attempted murder charge has a mandatory minimum of 17-1/2 years before Tullis will be eligible for parole.
The penalty for first-degree arson, at the time the crime was committed, didn’t have a mandatory minimum to serve, as it does now. That law changed in July 2019.
A medical examiner determined the arson caused Balvin’s death, so Tullis also will be ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to Balvin’s family or his estate, Schulte told The Gazette after the plea agreement was made.
Two other charges — of assaulting a police officer and hospital security guard — will be dismissed at sentencing, according to the plea agreement.
Schulte said Wednesday that Balvin’s family and Thomas were informed of the plea, and all agreed it would hold Tullis accountable for his crimes.
Tullis remains in jail pending sentencing set for June 1.
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