A Roswell woman accused of setting fire to a local auto repair shop while her husband was asleep inside of it will remain detained pending trial.
In a hearing conducted via video conference Wednesday, Judge Jared Kallunki of New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District granted a motion requested by the District Attorney’s office for the pretrial preventive detention of Vienna Johnson, 37.
She will remain in custody without bond pending trial on one count of arson over $2,500 but not more than $25,000.
Johnson is charged in connection with a June 18 fire set to a 600 block of East Second Street auto repair shop, where her husband worked and was residing at the time.
Kallunki said in announcing his decision that while she did not have a criminal record, the fire and several alleged incidents that preceded it demonstrated a pattern of escalating behavior that could represent a danger to her husband and others involved in the case.
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Because of the danger, Kallunki said, no conditions of release could reasonably ensure the safety of other individuals, including Johnson’s husband who is associated with the case.
The prosecution, represented by Emily Fry, assistant district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District, argued for the motion.
Johnson, she said, has in the past come onto the property of the auto repair shop where she has argued with her husband, and on several occasions, is alleged by the shop owner to have damaged vehicles on the lot.
Conditions of release such as a no-contact order — which would prohibit Johnson from having direct or indirect contact with any alleged victims or potential witnesses in the case — or requiring that Johnson keep a GPS tracking device on her car, would not prevent her from possibly harming her husband or others involved in the case, Frye said.
Ira Shiflett, Johnson’s defense attorney, said his client did not have a criminal record and there was no basis for believing she would not abide by conditions of release imposed by the court.
“There’s really no argument being made by the state that my client has had a problem complying with court orders or complying with pretrial conditions,” Shiflett said at the hearing.
Shiflett also said none of the victims told police they felt their lives would be in danger if she were to be released.
If released, Shiflett said, Johnson would seek the court’s permission to live with her brother in Carlsbad.
A no-contact order combined with Johnson being out of the county, he said, would be enough to ensure the safety of her husband and others involved in the case.
Detective Humberto Loya of the Roswell Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division was the lone witness called at the hearing.
He testified that when he responded to the fire, he was told by a man who lived in a trailer on the auto repair shop’s property that before the fire, he heard Johnson and his wife arguing loudly while in the shop’s parking lot.
The man in the trailer said he learned of the fire when Johnson allegedly knocked on his trailer door and told the man the shop was on fire and her husband was inside.
The man then ran toward the building from which smoke was billowing and was yelling out the name of Johnson’s husband when Johnson reportedly got into her car and drove off.
Despite the shouts, Loya said, he was told Johnson’s husband did not respond. The man then ran around to the front of the building and kicked in the door, waking up Johnson’s husband and causing him to get out of the building.
Loya said the man later told him that when he and Johnson’s husband tried to use a fire hose to extinguish the blaze, the garden hose was found disconnected from the fixture on the outer wall of the shop and cut. The fixture was also damaged.
He said Johnson had on occasion come onto the property and argued with her husband. He said Johnson also would inflict damage on vehicles parked in the lot by breaking their windows and pouring oil on their hoods.
Loya added that the shop owner also told him that he was forced to replace several garden hoses because Johnson allegedly would slash them. He said the last time a hose was replaced was just a day before the fire.
The building was damaged in the blaze, with the office on the west side totally burned out, Loya said. He added a hallway also was burned and the building’s other room had damage from smoke.
Investigators later found that a window in the office had been broken and inside was a molotov cocktail made from a bottle of oil stuffed with documents.
When officers left the scene of the fire, they went to Johnson’s house in the 600 block of East Alameda Street. Loya said Johnson was subsequently transported to the Roswell Police Department for questioning.
Johnson did not give a statement to police at the time.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or firstname.lastname@example.org.