Plaza arsonist gets up to 20 years in mental hospital

A homeless man with a long history of mental illness was found "guilty except for insanity" Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court for the damage he did to businesses in the Ashland Plaza by setting fire to a trash can and throwing rocks.

Raymond Lee Wilson, 37, was found guilty of one count of first-degree arson, a Measure 11 crime, by Judge Timothy Gerking. Twenty-three additional charges against Wilson 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 before 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, begging the judge to give him "one more chance."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, your honor," Wilson said, placing his hands in a prayerful position, asking not to be sent to the state mental hospital.

"I didn't do this on purpose."

Noting Wilson suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and reviewing the mutually agreed-upon facts of the case, Gerking said the defendant must be 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.

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

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

At about 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 271/2; North Main St. 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 from the nearby sidewalk and set it on fire inside the stairwell next to Gold & Gems, which caused the fire and extensive smoke damage.

Wilson's court-appointed defense attorney, Michael Bertholf, kept a comforting hand on his client's back as he explained to the court that Wilson's medication had been stolen from his backpack.

Without his medications, Wilson's illness emerged — causing him to hear voices and behave erratically, Bertholf said.

"The voices in his head were screaming at him," Bertholf said, saying Wilson believed people were "chasing, teasing and scaring him" at the time of the incident.

"Raymond is a very special man," Bertholf said. "He has consistently expressed nothing but remorse."

Wilson was originally charged with 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, two counts of third-degree criminal mischief and first-degree menacing, Peterson said.

No one was injured in the fire, which 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. The court gave the state 90 days to submit a restitution amount for the damage caused by Wilson.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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