Man who set fire in Plaza in March headed to mental hospital

A homeless man with a long history of mental illness was found "guilty except for insanity" for his role in setting a fire that damaged businesses in the Ashland Plaza.

Raymond Lee Wilson, 37, was found guilty of one count of first-degree arson, a Measure 11 crime, by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Gerking. Additional charges related to setting fire to a trash can, throwing rocks, vandalizing a vehicle and stealing from a business were dismissed by the state as a result of the insanity finding.

Wilson apologized for his actions, stating his medications had been stolen just days prior to the events.

"If I hadn't had to stop my medications, I wouldn't be here today," said Wilson, as he struggled to maintain his composure, and begged the judge to give him "one more chance."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, your honor," Wilson said.

Noting Wilson suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and the facts of the case, Gerking said the defendant was considered a danger to himself and others. Gerking ordered Wilson into the care and custody of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, and remanded to the Oregon State Mental Hospital for a period up to 20 years, the maximum sentence allowed under Oregon law.

Around 3 a.m. on March 19, an Ashland police officer spotted flames in a stairwell between Gold & Gems and the storefront that previously housed American Trails at 27 Â1/2; North Main Street on the Ashland Plaza, said Deputy District Attorney J. Adam Peterson.

An investigation by the Ashland Police Department and Ashland Fire and Rescue determined that Wilson dragged a trash can off the nearby sidewalk and lit it on fire inside the stairwell next to Gold & Gems, which caused the fire and extensive damage.

Wilson was originally charged with 24 crimes including five counts of first-degree arson; one count each of second-degree criminal mischief, burglary in the second degree and theft in the second degree; three counts of reckless endangering; 10 counts of first-degree criminal mischief and; two counts of third-degree criminal mischief; and a first-degree menacing, Peterson said.

No one was injured in the fire and it was contained in about 10 minutes. That same night Wilson tossed rocks through the window of two Ashland businesses — stealing from one — and vandalized a vehicle before being arrested.

Peterson said he hoped Wilson would get the help he needs in the state hospital.

"I know you're sorry about this. And I know you're a good person," Gerking said, adding Wilson would be in the mental hospital for "as long as you need to be there."

"You need to go get well," Gerking said.

The court gave the state 90 days to submit a restitution amount for the damage caused by Wilson.

— Sanne Specht

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