116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man charged with setting a fatal blaze at Hawthorne Hills Apartments in 2019 will plead to arson and attempted murder later this month.
Dallas Tullis, 24, originally charged with first-degree murder, will plead to a lesser charge of attempted murder and first-degree arson on April 20 in Linn County District Court.
Tullis, who planned to claim diminished capacity at trial, will admit he intended to cause the death of Steven Craig Balvin, 65, who lived across the hall from Tullis, on Feb. 28, 2019.
Tullis also will admit to starting the fire in his own apartment.
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 Friday after the pretrial hearing.
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 stated 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 of the residents, police said at the time.
Schulte and Balvin’s defense attorneys told 6th Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner during the pretrial hearing that the plea agreement calls for running the two charges concurrently for a total of 25 years in prison.
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, after this fire.
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 said.
Two other charges — of assaulting a police officer and hospital security guard — will be dismissed at sentencing, according to the plea agreement.
Comments: 319-398-8318; email@example.com