Jury finds Duluth contractor guilty of setting arson fire at client's homeA St. Louis County jury on Thursday found there was enough circumstantial evidence to convict Adam Leroy Seavey of first-degree arson.
He wore dark clothes, a dark mask and dark hoodie and couldn’t be identified in a home surveillance video as he poured gasoline on the steps of a Duluth duplex and set it on fire, but a St. Louis County jury on Thursday found there was enough circumstantial evidence to convict Adam Leroy Seavey of first-degree arson.
It took the eight-woman, four-man jury less than three hours to decide that Seavey, a Duluth building contractor, started the Dec. 16 fire on the steps of Jason Branstrom’s duplex at 19 E. Eighth St., after Branstrom refused to pay him for building a retaining wall that was substandard and didn’t meet city code.
Immediately after the verdict was read, Seavey’s mother walked crying from the courtroom. The defendant displayed no emotion. He handed his cell phone to his mother-in-law, his wallet to his wife, and put his hands behind his back to be cuffed and escorted by deputies and court security
officers to a vehicle headed for the St. Louis County Jail.
Judge Dale Harris ordered an Arrowhead Regional Correction probation officer to conduct an investigation of Seavey’s background before sentencing on Sept. 14. The defendant faces a guideline prison sentence of five years, eight months. However, the judge can sentence Seavey to between 58 and 81 months in prison without departing from sentencing guidelines.
Branstrom, a human resources manager, testified that when he told Seavey he refused to pay the $15,000 bill because he’d have to spend $18,000 to have it redone, Seavey threatened to break his legs.
Between August 2011 and the Dec. 16 arson, the Branstrom property was vandalized five times, including decorative landscaping rocks twice being thrown through windows of the duplex and windows also being broken in two vehicles.
Ten hours before the arson, Seavey was captured on store surveillance video purchasing a ski mask, hoodie and dark pants from the Superior Walmart.
The jury forewoman was Amanda Smith, a 20-year-old from Proctor, who plans to graduate a year early from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., next spring with a major in biology and a minor in neuroscience.
Smith said she took the initiative of volunteering to be the forewoman and her fellow jurors picked her. She said jurors were dedicated to being fair and thorough.
“There was a lot of discussion from both sides,” she said. “The circumstances of this were very serious. There was a lot on the line for Mr. Seavey and his family. We wanted to make sure that there was no doubt and we felt he was guilty. We were going over all of the evidence. We wanted to make sure that we reviewed all the evidence as thoroughly as possible to make sure we didn’t leave anything up in the air. We looked at every piece of evidence and scrutinized it.”
During their deliberations, jurors returned to the courtroom after asking to again view the four videos presented as evidence during the trial, including the video that showed an unidentifiable man with a ski mask, hoodie and dark clothes sprinkling what turned out to be gasoline and lighting it on the duplex steps.
Smith acknowledged that jurors couldn’t tell if Seavey was the person in the video setting fire to the steps. “That was very unknown,” she said. “But the state did provide enough circumstantial evidence for us to make the decision.”
The young forewoman complimented St. Louis County prosecutor Rebekka Stumme and defense attorney Mikkel Long for their work during the trial.
“They were both fantastic lawyers,’’ she said. “It was really an honor to be a part of that and be able to experience those two.”
Stumme told jurors in her closing argument that Branstrom and his fiancée, who lives with him, were both college-educated young professionals, who had no disputes with anyone else in their lives other than Seavey. She pointed out that there was no further vandalism at the duplex after Seavey was arrested and charged with arson in December. She also said there was nothing stolen in connection with the serial vandalism.
“I think this is a case where when you look at the entire circumstances of everything that had happened to victims Jason Branstrom from roughly August of 2011 to the date of the arson, coupled with the receipt dated the day of the arson and the purchases that Mr. Seavey made, it was just telling that this was a good circumstantial case for the state,” Stumme said in her office after the verdict.
Long told jurors in his summation that the vandal or vandals could have been targeting the two women tenants in the lower level of Branstrom’s duplex. “Isn’t it possible that someone was upset with one of them, an ex-boyfriend, a jilted lover?” he said rhetorically. The defense attorney also said that there were hundreds, if not thousands of people in Duluth who could have fit the physical description of the person setting fire to the steps of the duplex.
But only one person was found to have purchased a dark mask, dark hoodie and dark pants 10 hours before the arson of the residence of a man who refused to pay him $15,000 for what he considered substandard work.