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Trial reset again for Iowa City man accused of setting fire that trapped 2 adults, three kids
Police said he poured lighter fluid under door of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, igniting blaze
IOWA CITY — An Iowa City woman first reported to police that her ex-boyfriend, whom she could see out her door peephole, was outside her apartment and knocked on her door for 20 minutes on June 13, 2021.
Chadsitty Brown told police her former boyfriend, Ishmael S. Carter, 32, of Iowa City, was lying on the floor in front of her door when she spied him through the peephole. During the call she told a dispatcher that the knocking stopped and she thought he left. At 11:14 p.m. she called back to report her apartment at 612 E. Court St. was on fire.
Brown said after she thought Carter left, she heard what sounded like water being poured underneath her upper-level apartment door, according to court documents. It actually was lighter fluid, which started a blaze that trapped her boyfriend, Corey Peterson, and her three children, all under the age of 5, inside the apartment.
Police said Brown and the others were able to go out on the apartment’s balcony until the Iowa City Fire Department put out the blaze. No one was injured, but the fire caused an estimated $50,000 in damage, according to police.
A criminal complaint and search warrant affidavit said police found Carter watching the fire from a nearby driveway, and witnesses saw him inside the apartment building and outside the building before the fire.
Carter denied to police that he had been at the apartment or started the fire, according to the affidavit. He said he just woke up and went to his porch at 313 S. Dodge St. to smoke a cigarette. He then saw lights and heard sirens, so he walked over to Court Street and saw the fire.
Carter had a lighter in his pocket and was wearing an ankle monitor, according to the affidavit. He told officers his ankle monitor was “dead,” and he received a call saying he needed to return home and charge it.
Carter was on probation for a 2020 conviction of third-degree sexual abuse and was required to wear a GPS monitor, according to court documents.
Later that night, police found a bottle of lighter fluid in the dumpster behind the Court Street apartment. A surveillance video was taken from L&M Mighty Shop, which is two blocks from Carter’s and Brown’s residences. It showed Carter came in the shop about 11:05 p.m., and a clerk helped him find lighter fluid. Carter paid for it, left and was opening it with his mouth, the video showed.
When investigators were attempting to get a copy of the video footage, Carter walked into the shop and again denied his involvement in the fire, the affidavit stated. Investigators showed him a screenshot of him purchasing the lighter fluid, but he denied it was him. Later, after being arrested, Carter told an investigator he purchased the fluid for his grill.
Investigators went to his home and asked his roommate where they keep the lighter fluid, according to the affidavit. The roommate said their grill was electric and didn’t need lighter fluid.
Carter’s cellphone and smartwatch were seized as evidence.
He was charged with first-degree arson and one count of attempted murder.
What's happened since
Carter’s trial has been reset four times because he changed lawyers several times. His trial that was set to start this month was reset to Jan. 17 because the prosecution amended the charges, adding four counts of attempted murder a week before trial.
The prosecution argued they wanted to correct the trial information to conform to the minutes of testimony, which names Brown, Peterson and the three children as the alleged victims. No new offense has been added, and the defense shouldn’t be surprised because the information is in minutes and shouldn’t require additional time to prepare for trial, according to the motion.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Valerie Clay agreed with the prosecution that there are five alleged victims named in the minutes of testimony, but the specific names were missing from the trial information and there was only one count of attempted murder.
This case has been pending for a “significant” period of time and the prosecution has filed additional minutes of testimony three times but “inexplicably” waited until just one week before trial to amend the trial information, Clay said in her ruling Dec. 5.
She didn’t know if the defense would have to change its trial strategy, but it may be prejudiced by adding the new charges a week before trial. She ruled to postpone the trial to give the defense adequate time to address the additional charges.
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