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Woman pleads not guilty in arson case


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Vienna Johnson (Submitted Photo)

A woman accused of setting fire to an auto repair shop while her husband was asleep inside has pleaded not guilty to one charge of arson.

Ira Shiflett, attorney for Vienna Johnson, 37, of Roswell, said Wednesday they had entered the not-guilty plea — to one count of arson over $2,500 but not more than $20,000 — during an arraignment in New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District Court in Chaves County.

According to documents filed in Chaves County Magistrate Court, Johnson allegedly set fire to the 600 block of East Main Street auto repair shop, where her husband worked and was residing at the time, in the early morning hours of July 18.

Johnson, who was arrested a short time after the fire was reported, did not provide police with any information pertaining to the investigation when she was detained.

No one was injured in the fire, but Humberto Loya, a detective with the Roswell Police Department, said during a court hearing on the case last month, that an office in the western part of the shop and the contents inside that office sustained extensive damage. A garden hose was later found cut and the valve attached to the building was also damaged.

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Court documents state that a man who lived in a trailer on the shop’s property said he first learned of the fire when Johnson allegedly knocked on the trailer door and said that he better go help her husband because he was inside the shop, which was on fire.

While the man was heading over to the building to help Johnson’s husband, court documents state, Johnson reportedly got into her vehicle and drove away.

The man in the trailer later said he had heard Johnson and her husband arguing in the shop parking lot sometime before the fire started.

Additionally, police learned from the shop owner that Johnson’s husband had been living at the shop because of problems he was having with his wife, according to court documents.

He added that Johnson would frequently come onto the shop’s property and argue with her husband, while also sometimes cutting garden hoses, breaking windshields and pouring oil onto vehicles in the shop’s parking lot.

Such an incident had occurred the day before the fire. The shop owner told police, according to court documents, that on that day, Johnson poured oil onto the hood of her husband’s vehicle, broke his windshield, cut a garden hose on the property and chased Johnson around with a crowbar.

Johnson remains in custody and held without bond pending a possible criminal trial after Judge Jared Kallunki late last month granted a motion by the District Attorney’s Office for pretrial detention.

Shiflett said Wednesday that at the arraignment, a jury trial in the case was scheduled for Feb. 16.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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