After seven days of deliberation, a Kings County jury Thursday found Bradley Duinkerken not guilty on all counts in his trial over arson charges stemming from a 2008 Kings Country Club fire.
The verdict brought a three-year-long, high-profile legal saga to a close.
The 50-year-old Laton man was accused of masterminding a conspiracy that destroyed the golf course clubhouse in 2008. Two other men in the alleged conspiracy were Duinkerken's former employees. They were sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting a crime last November.
After Thursday's verdict, cries of relief poured from the courtroom as family and friends celebrated the verdict. Outside the court, the emotional display continued, as Duinkerken was seen hugging family members.
"We're extremely happy," said Randy Edwards, Duinkerken's defense attorney. "This has been one hell of a stressful case for Brad and his family. We're thankful for the jury's efforts on the case."
The verdict ended a grueling trial that started May 3 with jury selection and lasted for five weeks. It involved 10 days of presentation of evidence and dozens of witnesses. The jury began deliberating on May 24.
"We still believe he is culpable," said Kings County Prosecutor Keith Fagundes. "Obviously, it's disappointing. But it's the jury's verdict, and we respect that."
Duinkerken, a former Kings Country Club board member, was indicted in November on three counts: alleged arson, conspiracy to commit a crime and unlawfully causing a fire as well as a special allegation of causing a loss amounting to more than $65,000.
The charges stemmed from the July 7, 2008 fire that occurred amid internal disagreement within the club over the fate of the historic structure. Some wanted to demolish it and erect a new facility. Others wanted to preserve the structure, which once served as the Hanford High School building from 1911 to 1923. In the end, the group voted in favor of preservation, but their decision was overturned when the building was burned to the ground.
The prosecutions followed extensive investigation by Kings County authorities.
Mike Virden, Kings County fire marshal and assistant fire chief, said substantial evidence pointed to Duinkerken's guilt, but he had expected the trial would be tough going for prosecutors.
"I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a difficult case," Virden said. "Arson is hard to prove - harder than homicide. There's no eyewitness. Arson cases are usually all circumstantial.
"I have so much admiration for the DA's office and Keith Fagundes to take on the case, as well as detective Robert Waggle and everyone involved in the investigation."
One of the key factors for jurors weighing the case was the cell phone evidence for Duinkerken.
Of some 4,163 calls made by Duinkerken between May and July 2008, 98 hit the tower located at the south end of the country club, and each time, Duinkerken was at the club golfing, Virden said. The only three times when Duinkerken's phone signal hit that particular tower at night was during the May 30, 2008 men's invitational and during the night of the fire, Virden said.
One female juror, who agreed to discuss the case but declined to be named, said all the jurors did agree there was a conspiracy and it was arson that caused the fire.
The challenge for the jury was "wanting more information and the feeling that a piece of the puzzle was missing," she said. "We don't think that he is innocent, but we just didn't feel we had enough information to connect him to what we consider was true evidence."
The reporter can be reached at 583-2429.
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