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April 30, 2013
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Eagle man facing attempted murder trial

EAGLE, Colorado — An accused arsonist admitted he knew people were sleeping in an East Vail condo building when he set it on fire, a Vail Police detective testified Friday.

Andrew Wells, 31, of Eagle, will stand trial on 14 felony charges, including seven counts of attempted murder, one count for each of the seven people sleeping inside the East Vail condo building when he allegedly tried to block their escape route by setting fire to the building's only staircase.

Wells' former girlfriend was living in the building, but was not there when the fire was set.

“She broke his heart and he was seeking revenge. He was trying to force her to leave town,” said Vail Police Detective Justin Liffick, describing an interview with Wells.

Immediately following Wells' preliminary hearing Friday morning, District Court Judge Tom Moorhead ruled from the bench that Wells would go on trial April 5.

“There is sufficient evidence that the offenses were committed and committed by the defendant,” Moorhead said.

The charges stem from a pair of arson attempts in the predawn hours of Sept. 22. Wells was arrested later that day at his home in Eagle.

What police say happened

Vail police were initially called by one of the building's residents reporting rocks being thrown onto the roof by a “shadowy figure” who escaped by “skulking” through some bushes, according to testimony by Vail Police Officer Dan Torgerson.

When Torgerson arrived moments later, the man who called police ran toward him exclaiming, “There's a fire in Building E!” Torgerson said.

“He came sprinting toward my vehicle in a panic,” Torgerson said.

The flames were 2 feet high by that time, spreading up in the only stairwell that provides access to the building's upper floors, Torgerson said.

“People could have run through the flames, but they'd have been burned,” Torgerson said.

Torgerson said he sprinted to his police car and grabbed his fire extinguisher. In the seconds it took him to sprint back the flames had grown to 3 feet, he said. 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, Torgerson said.

When Liffick interviewed Wells later that day, Liffick said 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. Wells then drove to East Vail to “do what he was going to do,” Liffick said.

Liffick said Wells admitted throwing the rocks and lighting the fires. The first fire did not ignite because lawn sprinklers had soaked the surface minutes before.

Liffick said Wells admitted walking from the first building to the building directly to the east where his former girlfriend lived in a top floor apartment, and setting a second fire at the bottom of the wooden exterior staircase.

“I asked him if he understood that setting a fire to the only entrance and exit point would put the people inside in serious danger. He said he understood that,” Liffick testified.

Wells' attitude was one of “universal malice” and “extreme indifference to the value of human life,” prosecutors said in court documents when they added attempted murder to Wells' list of charges.

Defense duo

Prosecutors Joe Kirwan, John Franks and Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum are handling the prosecution.

Wells, 6 feet 1 inches, 270 pounds according to his arrest records, towered over his former girlfriend as she sat on the front row of Moorhead's courtroom, between two victims' counselors.

Wells, dressed in orange jail clothes and shoes, sat at the defendant's table with his attorneys, Jim Little and Terry O'Connor. The pair attacked every aspect of the prosecution's case during Friday's preliminary hearing.

While questioning Vail Police Officer Katherine Williams, Little asserted that there was no physical evidence linking Wells to the vandalism of the automobiles in that area.

Vail police found a cigarette lighter when they searched Wells' car. Little said the cigarette lighter could have been used to light cigarettes, pointing out that police found two packs when they searched his car.

“Cigarette lighters are used to set fire to something,” Williams said.

Both Williams and Torgerson testified that they and other officers smelled a strong odor of gasoline coming from Wells' blue Honda. Little asserted he'd recently filled it up.

Pattern of harassment

Wells allegedly harassed his ex-girlfriend for weeks before trying to burn down the building where he thought she was sleeping, Williams testified.

Liffick said he'd been dealing with the case because of vandalism reports and restraining order violations demanding Wells stay away from his former girlfriend. When the call came in he said he recognized the address because he'd responded to it many times before.

“We initially suspected Mr. Wells because the history with (the alleged victim),” Liffick said. We talked frequently and she was afraid for her life.”

Liffick 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, Liffick said.

Police found two GPS applications on the woman's phone designed to help track the phone's user.

The apps intercept data that transfers between the phone and the service provider, in this case AT&T, and shares that information, Williams said.

The woman did not purchase the apps and didn't install them, Williams said. At one time they had shared an account, but the woman ended that arrangement prior to breaking up with Wells, Williams said.

Wells was charged with vandalizing the woman's car when 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.

Moorhead set Well's five-day trial for April 8. A motions hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 22.

Wells remains in the Eagle County jail on $765,000 bond.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 30, 2013 11:05AM Published Jul 28, 2013 07:53PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.