In a week of depressing news, this was icing on the Scheisskuche.
Federal prosecutors have dropped charges against a Tuolumne County man accused of starting a massive 2013 wildfire that burned for more than two months and eventually charred more than 257,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.
Keith Matthew Emerald, 33, was facing a four-count indictment that included starting the Rim fire, a blaze that eventually grew into the third-largest wildfire in California history. He was also charged with leaving a fire unattended, lying to investigators and setting a fire in an area with fire restrictions. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 11 years and more than $500,000 in fines.
In court papers filed Thursday, prosecutors said they were dropping charges because two key witnesses had died unexpectedly since the indictment was brought last August. U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on Friday officially dismissed the charges.
“The statements of those witnesses are now inadmissible hearsay which cannot be used as evidence in trial,” according to court documents. Defendants have the right to cross-examine witnesses during trial.