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Duluth police: Man set fire to apartment to get liquor

Forum News Service

A Duluth man was charged with six crimes Tuesday after police said he tried to burn down his apartment because the woman he shared it with wouldn’t buy him alcohol.

Michael James Larson, 26, is charged with first-degree arson, third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, stalking, pattern of stalking and felony domestic assault.

Judge Mark Munger also granted the woman’s request for an order for protection, which is in effect for two years. Larson was convicted of the domestic assault of the same woman in January. In December 2011 he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, which was amended after initially being charged with assaulting the same woman.

According to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday in State District Court:

The woman told police that Larson put an ax through a wall of the apartment she shared with him on Upham Road, just off East Central Entrance, and then repeatedly threatened to burn down the residence if she didn’t buy him alcohol. On July 23, between 3:06 p.m. and 5:51 p.m., the woman received about 50 texts from Larson with messages such as:

“FD will be here in 5,” “smoking,” “smoking, last chance,” “hurry, foggy looking.” Larson told police that the woman eventually gave in and bought him a 750-milliliter bottle of vodka, which he consumed.

The woman received more texts from Larson from 3:11 a.m. to 3:16 a.m. on Friday and a final text at 11:47 a.m. that day that read: “Babe, our house is on fire.”

The two-story unit is considered a complete loss, although the fire was contained with minor damage to the two attached units in the same building, police said.

One child was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. Two witnesses told police that they saw Larson in the area of the fire about 11:30 a.m. and attempted to talk to him, but he didn’t respond.

Officers used a police dog that is trained to detect suspicious fires. The dog indicated that an accelerant had been used in starting the fire.

Duluth police arson investigator Todd Kuusisto swabbed Larson’s hands for evidence. Three officers and Larson were also placed in a lineup and the police dog indicated that Larson had been in contact with accelerants.

According to the complaint, Larson first made several excuses about how the fire might have started, but he then admitted that he poured gasoline from a can onto a child’s crib or toddler bed in an upstairs room and used a lighter to start the fire. He said he then ran downstairs, splashing the gasoline onto a couch and using his lighter to ignite it.

The alleged victim sought shelter at the Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center, whose advocates helped her obtain the order for protection. The woman told police that Larson had sexually assaulted her on July 23. The defendant told police that it was consensual.

Larson was charged with theft in May. His next hearing on the theft charge is scheduled for Thursday. He is being held in the St. Louis County Jail on $150,000 bail. His next hearing on the six most recent charges is Aug. 21.

Forum News Service

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