By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A 26-year-old Kurtistown man accused of torching a vacant Hawaiian Acres home in April missed a Monday court date because he was hospitalized in Honolulu after being assaulted and suffering a skull fracture.
Justin James Clark, who is charged with first-degree arson, plus unrelated charges of third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possession of drug paraphernalia, was scheduled to change his pleas in both the arson and drug cases on Monday.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Clark is in (The) Queen’s (Medical Center). He was taken there last week; I believe he was assaulted and medevaced to Queen’s,” Deputy Public Defender Jeff Ng, who’s representing Clark in the drug case, told Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara.
“So he’s in custody?” Hara asked.
“He’s not,” replied Cody Frenz, Clark’s court-appointed attorney in the arson case.
“No, your Honor,” Frenz said.
Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Malate told the court he confirmed with the Honolulu hospital “that a Justin Clark is currently admitted.”
Frenz told the judge that she had talked to Clark’s case manager on Monday and “she was advised that his release date is unknown because of his head injury.” She said that he had sustained a fractured skull and would be released “as soon as he can walk without fainting or getting dizzy.”
“We do have an agreement in his case and he will change his plea when he is well enough to go through that and sentencing,” Frenz said.
Hara scheduled a hearing for Oct. 15 at 9 a.m.
Frenz said afterwards that the assault on Clark occurred “late Wednesday night or early Thursday” in Kalapana.
“He was medevaced on Thursday,” she said, and added that she doesn’t know if any arrests were made for the assault.
Clark is accused of intentionally setting fire to a vacant home on Road 6 on April 6. The house was owned by Aezja Munson, who lives in Seattle. Munson’s adult son, Nate, came back from time to time to stay at the home, but the house hadn’t been occupied full time for about 20 years, Munson told the Tribune-Herald in April.
According to court documents filed by police, a neighbor to the house told police that Nate Munson had a sexual relationship with Clark’s ex-girlfriend while Clark was in jail and that Clark “wanted to shoot” Nate Munson. Two other witnesses told police that they had seen a cream-colored or mustard yellow Jeep Cherokee sport-utility vehicle leave the driveway of the home shortly before seeing the fire. They told police the SUV made “a right turn out of the highway at a high rate of speed” onto Road 6, documents state. Police said that both witnesses picked Clark out of a photographic lineup as the driver of the Jeep.
According to documents, a fire inspector told police officers that arson was suspected after a dog “alerted to the presence of an ignitable liquid on the front stairway and landing to the structure.”
According to police, the drug and paraphernalia charges were filed after officers found a small amount of cocaine while arresting Clark on Jan. 17 for an unrelated contempt of court charge.