Jacob Christenson, age 11, facing arson trial in Parker over fire that "just happened"

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jacob christenson.JPG
Jacob & his mom.
Jacob Christenson of Parker would like everyone to know that he is very, very sorry about the events of May 9, a few weeks before his eleventh birthday. He did light a piece of paper on fire, but he had no idea it was going to cause so much trouble. Can he go home now?

Alas, no. At the behest of Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers's office, Jacob and another juvenile are facing a second-degree arson charge over the fire they set, which caused upwards of $195,000 in damages to two townhomes.

Given the age of the perps and the circumstances, Jacob's defenders see the move as prosecutorial overkill. "It was a bad mistake, but second-degree arson?" asks Tina Christenson, Jacob's mom. "That's pretty major."

Christenson, who lives in the same complex where the fire occurred and works at Home Depot, is a single mom of five. Jacob is in the middle of the pack. "None of my kids have ever been in any trouble," she says. "Unfortunately, Jacob was being a ten-year-old boy."

Jacob says he and a slightly older friend were just killing time last Mother's Day when they got the bright idea of playing around with a plastic lighter Jacob had found.

"We were just walking around, being bored," Jacob says. "[The older boy] told me to light this piece of paper on fire. I was like, okay, but I wasn't lighting anything else. It burned him, and he threw it into the bush. And I tried to get it out, and I got burned. Then we started throwing rocks at it, trying to put it out."

The bush in question was one of several dry evergreens that lined one side of a townhome a couple of blocks from Jacob's place. It went up like last year's Christmas tree. "It started catching on the center bush," Jacob recalls. "Then it lit the first bush. And it went to the third and fourth and then to the house. It just happened. We both started running, and we were yelling for help. Somebody saw the fire and called the cops, and the fire department people came up. I'd never seen anything like it except on the news."

Tina remembers her son running into the house, screaming for her to call 911. "By the time I got outside, the fire department was already there," she says.

The initial story the boys told about the fire somehow omitted their involvement. Once they sat down with an investigator, Tina urged her frightened son to tell the truth. He admitted setting the piece of paper on fire.

No one was injured in the blaze, but the devastation to one townhome was significant -- an entire wall went up, and there was extensive water damage inside. (The Douglas County Assessor's Office values the property at $133,000.) But Jacob's public defender believes the second-degree arson charge is unwarranted, since it requires that the damage be caused "knowingly."

"That's what boys do," says attorney Dariel Weaver. "They play with magnifying glasses and matches, they have rock fights. I don't think you can say that Jacob set out with the intention to burn a house down."

Weaver says she's not trying to minimize the damage the homeowners suffered because of boys being bad boys. But, she points out, most of the restitution being sought won't go to the homeowners at this point but their insurance companies, the major beneficiaries of the juveniles' prosecution.

"Yes, these people suffered losses," Weaver says. "But that can be addressed civilly. The criminal justice system is being used to recover civil damages from a ten-year old."

Is it overkill? "Absolutely. But it doesn't surprise me with this jurisdiction," Weaver says, referring to the hardliner reputation of Chambers' office.

The lead prosecutor in the case didn't respond to requests for comment. Tina says she's inflicted some punishments of her own for what her son did, including grounding him and telling him he'll have to do odd jobs for friends and contribute what he can to whatever restitution figure is settled upon. She also wants him to write a letter of apology and read it aloud to the homeowner -- something he's not permitted to do right now because of a no-contact order in the case, which bars him from speaking to the fire's victims or his co-defendant.

"Obviously, there's going to be restitution that has to be paid," Tina says. "We haven't talked about all the options yet."

A hearing in the case is scheduled in juvenile court later this month, with a trial date in February.

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19 comments
Tonya Meadows
Tonya Meadows

The Prosecutorial misconduct of this case unfortunately is not rare in the U.S. today. This is not an isolated case. It is open season on the children of America by those in authority. Get informed. Get involved. Join Children's Hope and Voice in advocating to stop Prosecutors from charging children as adults. For those who believe a 10 year old won't be jailed, don't be fooled. Its happening all over the U.S. and to children much younger. Citizens must unite to stop these autrocities happening to our children. Visit www.childrens-hopeandvoice.org.

calhounp
calhounp

i'd love to publish some of these comments in the Letters to the Editor section of our print edition. If you'd like yours included, same your full name/town to me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Ashandtysmom
Ashandtysmom

It is horrible that an accident of this magnitude occurred. But a 10 year old boy...this DA needs to go after a different group of peeps and make a difference, like as in child molesters--

CarolNag
CarolNag

Carol, I just saw your picture and threw up. Certainly there is some law that we can enforce to stop you from inflicting so much damage on society by sporting that ugly mug in public. Tell me, are you fat as well? That would be the perfect storm.

Frank25
Frank25

I find something very missing in the comments so far: No one seems to be upset with the insurance companies who insure the buildings, or the rental insurance adjustors who are pushing this case into court. Having been a jurist and witness in some cases, why do the same people who criticized Carol Chambers in the past, jump on her case on this. Statement also indicates the "lead prosecutor" did not return calls. Do any of you really believe a 10 year old will be locked up in this case? And with insurance companies pushing, what happens if she ignores this. Follow the money, people. Then jump the frame of those pushing the case for "the almighty dollar" when those who lost property won't see much of any settlement. Part that rankled my thoughts is pasted here: "Weaver says she's not trying to minimize the damage the homeowners suffered because of boys being bad boys. But, she points out, most of the restitution being sought won't go to the homeowners at this point but their insurance companies, the major beneficiaries of the juveniles' prosecution".

Fred Jones
Fred Jones

Please provide a list of names of the insurance companies. It is easy enough to change my homeowner's policy to a more realistic company! As for the fat old nag, lets vote her out!!!!!!

caliman2011
caliman2011

:What do you think about the growups that started the fire in the state of Colorado last summer, no charges ware filed or they ware droped because it was an accident. WOW you expect me or anyone to accet the fact that a ten year old should be charged with Arson for an accident this makes me wonder what have we become. I dont think that any is saying that the kid should not be punished but these charges are ridicules. 171 home ware destroid in your state and no charges for the ones that caused this fire an you want to charge a ten ear old for this. This story is all over the internet now so get the facts before you talk. 1. the other kid is in trouble for not complying with the court instructions. 2. The lady did not get an appology becuause their is a restraining order agains the kids baring them from any contact with the victem. 3. the insurance allready payed for the damage and they are the ones behind these charges. 4. You have a DA that refuses to file rape charge because the perpetrator plays football for CU or some college in CO. There is plenty of hard core criminals in the streets of Colorado foy you to wast tax payer money to prosecute a kid for an accident and rob him of his childhood. My question is how many millions did the fire last summer cost yet the adults that know that fire is dangerous did not get charge. I think a whole lot of you in that state need to get a life. They are kid and kids sometimes do stupid things. Thank God no one got hurt it is time to forgive and try to help this kid, he made a mistake and after watching the report I hope they get the real story out. This is an insurance company trying to get money aftey they had to pay. After all isn't that why we get insurance to cover for accidents. Then this was an accident best of wishes to you Jacob God bless you and your family.

GnKen
GnKen

Insane. Just insane. Please, get this crazy woman out of our lives! Yes, mistakes like this are very costly, often in human (rather than wordly) terms, but they are mistakes, not crimes. Where does it end, and how did we get here? How is this crazy kind of crap allowed to happen, and how does the crazy person who is in charge of whether it happens remain an ELECTED official? C'mon people (of Arapahoe county),do you not read the news, do you not realize the insanity this woman has perpetrated on us as citizens?

Geezer137
Geezer137

After reading this article, I decided to see if this was a one-time episode. Turns out Carol Chambers is a stark-raving lunatic, and apparently one of the worst DA's around. In 2009, she became the first DA censured in over 16 years after she interfered in a civil case. She refused to pursue a rape case because the alleged perpetrator played football at Colorado. This bitch is crazy! Then I ran across a photo of said bitch, and it all became clear. She probably suffered ridicule throughout her entire life, then, when given a position of authority, she decided to exact retribution on whomever crossed her path. I hope she has kids (although I can't imagine anyone ever wishing to get intimate with her). When her kids get in the slightest amount of trouble, we can give them 48 years in prison and show everyone how we are "tough on crime". How is this monstrosity still in office?

atomic1fire
atomic1fire

I think they should just have him work to pay the debt off.Let him attend school, give him a job or something to rake leaves for the city, or mop the floors of city hall. and then if he can get a better paying job to help pay it off, let him do that.give him time for school and holidays or whatever, to the extent that work laws will allow, and then let him work as punishment,they can't overwork the kid, but throwing him in jail won't help either,atleast one way he can work to pay back the damage.even better, split the cost between the two kids, and require them to both work up to their half.it sounds like the older kid was the one who started most of it, so punish him more, but require that they both split the restitution to make payment easier.

carol
carol

you want a 10 year old kid to work off 200k mopping floors?? or would you just like to admit to not thinking before you speak ?

dr. angelface
dr. angelface

yes, that's ridiculous. have him plant a money tree and harvest it instead!

*eyeroll*

obviously, no child - no *combination of children* - is gonna be able to make restitution for all this damage. that's not the point. when you *grasp* the point, you can talk shit to other people about thinking before they speak, genius.

if you have a better idea for teaching kids to take responsibility for their actions, let's hear it. otherwise, plug up your ass; talking out of it tends to stink the place up.

RonInWesty
RonInWesty

Sounds like a prosecutor who is more interested in putting a notch in their belt labeled "Arson Conviction" than they are interested in any semblance of justice or proportionality to the intent behind the actions or anything that any 'reasonable person' might consider in this situation.

Itproz
Itproz

have him speak at schools about fire safety and take classes about it,then call it a day. He's young and it was a accident.

Pimpforlife50
Pimpforlife50

Wasent in Colorado that the 171 homes got burned down this past summer and the state decided to not charge the people that caused the damage becuase it was deemed an accident. This prosecutor would like us to beleive that a 10 year old kid knew that this could have been the outcome of trowing the paper into those busshes. If so what about the two grownups that started the fire that destroyed somany homes this past summer no charges filed because one of them was an ex fire fighter or something like that WOW. What have we become. Im more concern with the grownup that left the lighter outside for this to happen. Kids will be kids. I can only hope that we come to our scenses and not ruin this kids life. Good luck Jacob, California is rooting for you.

dr. angelface
dr. angelface

seriously? the kid is TEN. do these prosecutors not have anything better to justify their overinflated paychecks with? do they think trying to squeeze money out of a workingclass single mom and a TEN YEAR OLD CHILD looks like they're Tough on Crime?

you know what *really* looks tough on crime? going after real-live dangerous criminals. heaven forfend they should actually do something other than toady for publicity and grab their ankles for the bail-bond industry.

they want to teach the kid a lesson, they ought to give him an entire year mandatory grunt work for the fire department and send social services to determine whether this Octomom is providing adequate childcare while she's at her Home Depot job. if they want to manufacture a criminal, they're going about it in exactly the right way.

Robert
Robert

We know Chambers for an idiot.

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