1st of 4 arson suspects sentenced to 4 months in jail, 5 years of probation

Published 8:27 pm Friday, February 23, 2024

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One of the four people charged in connection to starting a garage fire on Garfield Avenue in October was sentenced Friday to four months in the Freeborn County jail and five years of probation.

Haily Merrill

Haily Marie Merrill, 28, in October pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree arson as part of a plea agreement. She initially faced one count of aiding and abetting first-degree arson for the fire on Oct. 6 at 819 Garfield Ave.

According to the court complaint, Merrill told police she, Kolten Lee Wright, 19, and a juvenile were hanging out in the North Broadway parking lot when the juvenile talked about getting revenge on a person who lives at the house and burning his garage down.

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Wright reportedly told police Kaden James Ashenfelter had taken the group to pick up lighter fluid from Wright’s house before they drove to the house on Garfield Avenue. Ashenfelter reportedly stayed in the vehicle while the other three went into the garage, Wright said.

While they were there, Merrill was to be the lookout while Wright and the juvenile set the garage on fire. Wright noted he and the juvenile first tried to get inside the house but couldn’t get in.

The juvenile allegedly took the lighter fluid from Wright and doused a cushion with lighter fluid, before Wright allegedly doused blankets. He then reportedly got his lighter out and lit a brown paper bag and put it down on the lighter fluid, and it caught fire. Wright reportedly said the juvenile ran out of the garage before he lit the fire.

As part of the sentence, Merrill was sentenced to a stayed 18-month prison sentence, meaning she will not have to complete that prison term if she completes her probation successfully. She will receive credit for 64 days already served in jail.

She also must complete 200 hours of community service and 50 hours with Albert Lea Fire Rescue, as well as issue an apology to firefighters after completion of the service. She is to have no contact with the victim or the co-defendants in the case and must testify truthfully if she is called to testify in one of the co-defendants’ cases.