Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The three Havre men accused of breaking into the Jaycees fireworks booth, stealing a large amount of fireworks and then starting the booth on fire today pleaded not guilty in state District Court to all charges stemming from the incident. Anthony W. Groce, 18, was charged with felony counts of arson by accountability, burglary and theft, and Charles S. Stratton, 20, and Lester T. Skramstad, 18, both were charged with arson, burglary and theft. Judge David Rice set the omnibus hearings, in which hearings and a trial generally are scheduled, for Sept. 9 at 1:30 p.m. During the hearing, Rice approved a request from Stratton’s attorney, public defender Mark Mackin, for a bail reduction for Stratton after receiving no objection from Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl. Rice said he would sign the motion, allowing Stratton to be released on his own recognizance to the supervision of his parents. Rice also said he would approve a similar motion from Skramstad’s attorney, public defender James Spangelo, after the motion was signed by Skramstad’s mother, and she agreed to report any violations if her son violated conditions of his release. Public defender Dan Boucher, representing Groce, did not make such a motion today, but said he would address the court regarding a bail reduction. The incident brought into question whether the annual Independence Day public fireworks display put on by the Havre Jaycees would occur or Not. The sale of fireworks from the booth pays for the display each year. Community members and businesses stepped up to help, making donations and offering help, facilities and even donating fireworks for the service organization to sell. The 2009 display was put on, and the organization expects to come close to making up its losses through the sale of fireworks donated and recovered and through its other fundraising events. Groce, Skramstad and Stratton were charged after a two-day investigation found evidence that at about 4 a.m. June 30, they had pulled up to the Jaycees booth on the southern edge of the Holiday Village Mall parking lot, broken into the booth and filled their car with fireworks so much that Groce could not get into the 1972 Ford Maverick and Stratton and Skramstad had to return to pick him up. According to the affidavit filed when the Hill County Attorney requested charges be filed against them, Stratton and Skramstad threw lit road flares into the booth, starting the fire that destroyed the booth. A surveillance video from Big R Supply which includes part of the parking lot, and eyewitness statements and statements of people who said they had heard the defendants talking about the incident led to the arrest and charging of the three.