Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Woman Starting Trial in Arsons; Springfield Fires Set to Help Drug Sales, Prosecutors Say

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Woman Starting Trial in Arsons; Springfield Fires Set to Help Drug Sales, Prosecutors Say

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

Dusty Lynn Simmons has been in trouble before, plenty of times.

But not like this.

Of all of her 104 arrests in the past 20 years, the arson charges she is scheduled for trial on today have the potential to put her away for life.

Simmons, a career prostitute, is accused of setting six houses on fire in Springfield in 2003. She told police and witnesses the influx of white residents to Springfield was hurting her business and that of friends who sold drugs, according to court testimony. Simmons is white.

No one was hurt in the fires she's accused of setting.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin this morning on two of the arson charges. Assistant State Attorney Stephen Siegel said he will seek a life sentence based in part on Simmons' long rap sheet.

Her record includes convictions for robbery, prostitution and cocaine possession. She also has faced charges of public intoxication and bail jumping on a previous arson charge that prosecutors later dropped. Circuit Judge Peter Dearing has classified her a habitual felony offender. She is free on $200,000 bail.

Simmons is so well-known in police and courthouse circles that her attorney, Michael Howard, has requested that law enforcement witnesses and courtroom personnel not let jurors know they know her outside the context of the arson cases.

Howard plans to argue that because there were other suspicious fires in the neighborhood after Simmons was jailed, someone else must be the so-called "Springfield arsonist." He said many of the state's witnesses have motivation to lie about Simmons.

Howard also said his client's checkered past shouldn't affect the trial.

"The case is not about whether Ms. Simmons is a drug user. The case is not about whether she was a prostitute. The case is about whether she set these fires," Howard said.

But Siegel said Simmons' criminal past shows motive. In court documents, he said one of the houses set on fire belonged to Louise DeSpain, president of the Springfield area neighborhood association, who was trying to rid the area of crime. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.