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Two charged with arson after admitting to setting home on fire to get rid of its owner, documents say

Crime Watch

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A fire destroyed a mobile home in Shelley back in March of 2019 | Courtesy Ramona Anderson

Update

The Bingham County Prosecutors office dismissed the charge against 25-year-old Austin Thomas Hinckley on June 4.

ORIGINAL STORY

SHELLEY — Two men are facing up to 15 years in prison after admitting to setting fire to a mobile home last spring.

Austin Thomas Hinckley, 25, and Stephen Leon McMurtrey, 51, are both charged with felony second-degree arson following months of investigation. According to an affidavit of probable cause, Hinckley and McMurtry confessed to starting the fire in order to get rid of its owner.

The alleged arson happened on March 27, 2019. Police reports show the Shelley Firth Rural Fire Department responded to the fire at 1550 North in Bingham County. When firefighters arrived they determined the mobile home and everything inside a complete loss.

Just prior to the fire, dispatch logs showed someone at the address called in saying they would be burning weeds along a ditch at the property. When investigators, including the State Fire Marshall, visited the burnt remains of the home, they discovered suspicious patterns of burning in the grass.

During a visit to the property, McMurtrey told investigators he used a weed burner at the property when things got out of control. He said he placed the weed burner inside a wheelbarrow that must have rolled toward the home and caught it on fire. But police noted that the plastic wheelbarrow with wood handles showed no signs of fire damage.

RELATED | Shelley fire leaves couple with only their pets

Police spoke with a witness of the fire who said she and her husband drove past the fire and saw three or four people standing outside. The witness said no one seemed all too concerned about the fire so she called 911. Dispatch told the woman there was a ditch being burned in the area.

On Aug. 30, investigators interrogated Hinckley about the fire and he admitted starting it with McMurtrey. It’s unclear what led investigators to Hinckley or how the men are related to the owner of the mobile home.

“Austin admitted he poured gas around the outside of the trailer at various locations and Stephen lit the fire using a match,” an investigator writes in the probable cause statement. “Austin further stated he talked with Stephen prior to it being done.”

When investigators spoke with both Hinckley and McMurtrey, they said they were trying to get the woman who lived in the home off of the property.

“Stephen told me he was not sorry the trailer burnt down,” a detective wrote.

Neither man was arrested, but a summons to appear in court was issued in November 2019.

Hinckley is scheduled for a status conference on June 18 following a competency evaluation. McMurtrey is awaiting his jury trial scheduled for Sept. 29 in Bingham County.

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