EAGLE, Colorado - Andrew Wells admitted he tried to burn down two apartment buildings where seven people were sleeping, because his former girlfriend broke his heart.
Wells, 32, pleaded guilty Wednesday to three felonies. He'll spend between 26 years and 48 years in state prison.
Wells sat with his head down, staring at a spot inches in front of him on the defendant's table, as Chief District Court Judge Tom Moorhead worked through the list of charges, asking Wells if he understood them.
Each time Wells answered, "Yes, your honor."
"With that understanding what is your plea?" Moorhead asked as he again read through the list of felonies.
Wells softly spoken answered, "Guilty" to each.
He'll be sentenced May 22 at 2 p.m.
His former girlfriend wasn't even in her apartment when he set the fires. But the woman was in the courtroom Wednesday, as she had been each time Wells was in court.
During Wells' videotaped confession, he told Vail Police Detective Justin Liffick, "I'll talk."
Liffick replied, "I'll listen."
The defense's hopes were dealt a death blow earlier when Judge Moorhead denied their motion to have that confession thrown out. Moorhead also ruled that DNA evidence tying Wells to the scene of the arsons would be part of the evidence. Vail police and fire investigators found Parliament cigarettes butts at the scene, with DNA that matched Wells'.
After those rulings, defense attorneys Jim Little and Terry O'Connor negotiated with the prosecutors for the plea agreement. Wells was originally charged with seven counts of attempted murder, one for each of the people sleeping in the buildings he tried to burn down.
Pattern of harassment
Wells had harassed his former girlfriend for weeks before trying to burn down her building, police said.
Wells admitted he had removed a spark plug from the woman's car, so she'd be stranded and have to call him to help her. He had a key to her car, but didn't have her consent to have it, police said.
Police accused Wells of planting two GPS applications on the woman's phone so Wells could track her.
Wells was originally charged with vandalizing the woman's car after police found damage to a CV joint, loosened lug nuts, and a plastic shopping bag had been stuffed into the nozzle of the gas tank.
All that culminated in the predawn hours of Sept. 22. Around 5 a.m. a resident called Vail Police to report rocks being thrown onto the roof. The rocks were being thrown by a "shadowy figure," who escaped by "skulking" through some bushes, police were told.
When Vail Police Officer Dan Torgerson arrived moments later, the man who had called ran toward him, panicked and shouting, "There's a fire in Building E!" The flames were 2 feet high by that time, spreading quickly up an exterior wooden stairwell, the only escape route for people on the building's upper floors.
Torgerson sprinted to his police car and grabbed his fire extinguisher. In the seconds it took him to sprint back the flames had grown another 3 feet. He emptied his fire extinguisher onto the fire, knocking down the flames just as the Vail fire department arrived around one minute later to completely extinguish the blaze.
As investigators combed the crime scene in East Vail, Vail Police Detective Russell Jacobs drove a marked Vail police car to Wells' apartment in Eagle.
Jacobs and officers from the Eagle Police Department and an Eagle County Sheriff's Office waited outside Wells' apartment for about an hour and a half.
Around 12:30 p.m., Wells finally walked up to Jacobs' marked Vail police car, and asked Jacobs if Jacobs could help him find his car.
When police found Wells' car at 7 a.m. there was no frost on his vehicle, indicating it had been running, Liffick said.
When Liffick interviewed Wells later that day, Wells told him he picked up a friend, drove to Gypsum, bought a gas can and filled it with gasoline, and also bought a pack of cigarettes. Police said Wells' car reeked of gasoline when they searched it following his arrest.
Police said Wells tried to set his first fire on a condo building adjacent to the one where his former girlfriend was living. That fire did not ignite because lawn sprinklers had soaked the surface minutes before, according to police.
As that flame smoldered and died, Wells walked to the building directly to the east where his former girlfriend lived in a top floor apartment, police said. He poured gasoline on the wooden stairs and set the fire, then fled the scene, police said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.