Whitefish man sentenced in arson case

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A Whitefish man received consecutive suspended sentences in Flathead District Court Thursday for felony criminal endangerment and felony criminal mischief after being accused of setting an ex-girlfriend’s Whitefish home on fire in 2013.

The charges were amended in a plea agreement from felony arson.

James Wallace Langley, 37, was sentenced to five years with the Department of Corrections for felony criminal mischief, followed by a consecutive term of six and a half years with the Department of Corrections for felony criminal endangerment — with all time suspended. He was given credit for 293 days of time served and must pay restitution of $2,549.95.

The sentence was a slight departure from the prosecutor and defense recommendations. The state had recommended a total sentence of 13 years, all time suspended, with the Department of Corrections, while the defendant recommended a 10-year suspended sentence as per the plea agreement.

One of the conditions of the plea agreement is that Langley will apply for an Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision (a system of uniform procedures to manage offenders movement between states) upon approval by his probation officer. In the event he is denied, Langley will transfer his probation and reside outside of Flathead, Lake and Lincoln counties.

Langley previously entered an Alford plea, which convicts a defendant who admits there is a chance of being found guilty at trial, but allows him to maintain innocence.

According to court documents, Whitefish Fire Department responded to a fire at a residence at 3:10 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2013. One of the residents reportedly woke up to a flash outside his window and saw a gas can on fire in his yard along with siding on his house. The gas can, which had been stored in a detached garage, belonged to one of the victims. The victim reportedly suspected Langley, who at the time, was an ex-boyfriend of one of his children. A DNA sample provided by Langley, matched swabs taken from the gas can lid according to court documents.

The case had been batted between Flathead District Court and the Montana Supreme Court.

Langley and prosecutors initially reached a deal in 2015, in which he entered an Alford plea to arson. Prosecutors then recommended a deferred sentence. Allison rejected the recommended sentence at Langley’s first sentencing hearing in March 2015 because he said it didn’t reflect the nature of the offense, which could have proven fatal.

Langley then unsuccessfully attempted to withdraw his plea of no contest, claiming Allison had an unfair bias against suspected arsonists. In June 2015, Allison sentenced Langley to 10 years with five suspended with the Department of Corrections. In November 2015 Langley appealed his sentence to the Montana Supreme Court.

Langley’s legal counsel claimed state law required the judge to allow the plea to be withdrawn. On March 22, 2016, the Montana Supreme Court overturned Allison’s decision to go beyond a plea agreement and impose a harsher sentence and remanded the case back to Flathead District Court.

Langley is a former coach for the Glacier Twins baseball team and a former recreation manager for the city of Whitefish.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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