Skramstad pleads guilty in arson case
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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
One of three men accused of breaking into the Jaycees fireworks booth on June 30 and stealing thousands of dollars worth of fireworks before setting the booth on fire pleaded guilty Wednesday. Lester T. Skramstad of Havre, born in 1989, pleaded guilty to felony charges of arson, burglary and theft. Judge David Rice set sentencing for Jan. 20. No formal plea agreement was filed, because Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl is not willing to make sentencing recommendations until she has reviewed a pre-sentence investigation report, Skramstad's attorney James Spangelo wrote in his motion to vacate the trial that had been scheduled Dec. 8 and set a changeof- plea hearing. Skramstad faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $50,000 fine on the arson offense, 20 years and a $50,000 fine on the burglary offense and 10 years and $50,000 on the theft offense. Co-defendant Charles S. Stratton of Havre, born in 1989, has a change-of-plea hearing on the same charges scheduled for Dec. 21. No plea agreement has been filed in his case, either. Co-defendant Anthony W. Groce of Havre, born in 1990, has no hearings scheduled in His case. In a motion to continue the Dec. 8 trial, his attorney, Daniel Boucher, wrote that “the parties are finalizing the terms of resolution of the pending charges.” The three men were charged after an investigation into the fire that destroyed the Jaycees fireworks booth, which provides the funding for the annual public Independence Day fireworks display put on by the service organization. The Jaycees originally estimated the damage in lost fireworks and destruction of the booth at more than $30,000. Help from the community enabled the group to put on the 2009 display, and it has been working to replace the booth and continue its decades-long tradition of putting on a fireworks display. Skramstad and Stratton both sent letters to the editor of the Havre Daily News in which they admitted burning down the booth and expressing their remorse. Investigators used eyewitness testimony, statements from friends and acquaintances of the three defendants and a video taken by a surveillance camera at the Holiday Village Mall to place the three accused men at the scene. Officers also recovered a large amount of fireworks when arresting the three defendants.