HILLIARD, Fla. - A Hilliard man who was arrested in a string of arson fires to vehicles and homes between February and May 2013 was acquitted by a Nassau County jury in four minutes.
The jury found that Ryan Wilson's chief accuser, his ex-girlfriend, wrongfully identified him out of spite and a desire for the reward offered in the case.
Wilson was found not guilty of three counts of arson and two counts of burglary to a conveyance. He was arrested in August.
Deputies said several vehicles at the Eastwood Oaks Apartment Complex in Hilliard had been the target of arson fires between Feb. 22 and May 29. A total of 10 vehicles and two apartments were set on fire during that time between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Deputies said Wilson was arrested for his involvement in the fire on April 25, which burned three vehicles at the complex. The jury said that wasn't the case.
On June 4, the Sheriff's Office, State Fire Marshal's Office, Eastwood Oaks Apartment Complex manager and First Coast Crime Stoppers announced an increase in reward money to $11,000 leading to the arrest of those responsible.
"The acquittal was certainly a surprise. You can't make an arrest unless there is probable cause," said Nassau County Undersheriff, George Lueders.
Lueders told Channel 4 Wednesday night that he stands by the investigation that his deputies and the state's Fire Marshall's office conducted last year at Eastwood Oak Apartments where several vehicles were set on fire.
"Some of the things were: where his location was during the fires. He actually lived in these apartments, which would have put him in close proximity of the vehicle. Statements from the person who gave a sworn statement about him being absent during the fires and then popping up when the fire department got there," said Lueders.
But the public defender who represented Wilson at trial, says the investigators key witness, was a spiteful ex-girlfriend of his, who wrongly identified him as a suspect.
Public Defender Chris Clayton's office sent Channel 4 this statement on the case Wednesday night:
"Mr. Wilson Had never argued about a previous accident with the owner of the burned car and that he was not facing eviction from his apartment at the time of the fires. In addition, the ex-girlfriend's description of how Mr. Wilson said he had started the fires did not match with the findings of the Fire Marshal who investigated the arson."
"You can't say that she lied because the juror acquitted him. She may have told the truth, but the defense team put a doubt in the jurors mind as to her intentions as far as her testimony," said Lueders.
Channel 4 spoke with one of the victims of the arson Wednesday night about the jury's decision not to convict.
"It's unfortunate you know. I believe in karma, what goes around comes around. If he didn't do it, then hopefully the person who did will end up where he or she should be," said Jimmy Grubbs.
The public defenders office told Channel 4 that Wilson Broke down in tears in court when the verdict was read. The Public Defenders Office said Wilson has already flown to New York, where he now plans to live.
Undersheriff Lueders said the arson investigation will be active again if the Sheriff's office gets any tips or leads in the case.
Anyone with any information about the arson fires is asked to call the Nassau County Sheriff's Office at 904-548-4007 or Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS (8477).
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