Man accused of Puna house arson appears in court


HILO — A 26-year-old Kurtistown man police believe burned down a Hawaiian Acres home on Friday has a pending drug case in 3rd Circuit Court.

Justin James Clark pleaded not guilty on Jan. 31 to third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possessing drug paraphernalia, both Class C felonies punishable by up to five years in prison. Police allegedly found a small amount of cocaine while arresting Clark on Jan. 17 for an unrelated contempt of court charge. That case is still pending and trial is scheduled for Monday, but Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Malate said the trial won’t start then.

Malate said that the state plans to file for revocation of Clark’s supervised release in that case. Court records indicate that Clark was granted permission on Feb. 7 by Judge Glenn Hara to fly to California to answer charges of domestic violence and violating a restraining order there. Malate said he didn’t know the status of the California case.

On Wednesday, Clark made his initial appearance in 3rd District Court on a first-degree arson charge. Judge Barbara Takase set a preliminary hearing for May 7 at 2 p.m. She noted that District Judge Harry Freitas on Tuesday had found no probable cause to continue holding Clark on $50,000 bail, so Clark was released without bail following the court appearance. The charge, a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, is still in effect.

“I neva done nothing. Bye,” Clark said when asked to comment afterward.

According to court documents filed by police, two witnesses saw Clark flee the scene of the fire on Road 6 in a 2000 Jeep.

According to documents, Fire Inspector Robert Perreira told 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.”

While firefighters battled the blaze on Friday, Clark walked down Road 6 past the driveway to the home and asked firefighters, police and media if they had seen his dog. A few minutes later, Clark had found a dog and was petting the animal.

An officer at the scene appeared to question Clark, but he wasn’t arrested until Monday.

The property is owned by Aezja Munson, who lives in Seattle. His adult son, Nate, came back from time to time to stay at the home, which is off the electrical grid, but the house hadn’t been occupied full time for about 20 years, Munson said.

“It’s a big loss because it wasn’t insured, and it was there for posterity, so to speak,” Munson said. “It’s just an invitation to do it better, do it differently. Now that the boy is old enough to participate, maybe it’s time to get him to invest (his labor in the property, because I built that baby by myself. I put those 4-by-12 beams up myself.”

Munson said he doesn’t know Clark, but hopes that “by whatever means or reason (he) has the opportunity to get his mind right about things, so he could become a productive member of society.”

Clark is employed as a line cook at Pineapples restaurant in downtown Hilo according to manager Trish Owens.

“Innocent until proven guilty,” Owens said. “He’s a good guy, he’s a good worker, and he’s a really good cook.”