A Trabuco Canyon man, Forrest Gordon Clark, 56, has been acquitted of arson charges but convicted of making criminal threats in the case of the 2018 Holy Fire. The defense argued that law enforcement experts rushed to judgment in accusing Clark of setting the blaze, which burned 23,000 acres and destroyed 18 structures. Defense experts conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that the fire likely started along a roadway, possibly caused by a passing truck’s exhaust or a discarded cigarette.
Prosecutors had accused Clark of setting fire to his neighbor’s cabin, Frank Romero, who lived in a residence adjacent to Clark’s. The trial, which started in April, saw Deputy District Attorney Dominic Bello presenting evidence against Clark. Bello argued that Clark had both the means and motive to start the fire. One key piece of evidence was a recording from Romero’s phone, in which Clark can be heard making threats against his neighbor.
Although Clark was convicted of felony criminal threats, he was acquitted of charges including aggravated arson and arson of inhabited structures. If found guilty of arson, Clark could have faced a life sentence. However, Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue sentenced Clark to two years, considering his time in custody awaiting trial. Donahue denied a request to continue the sentencing to allow Romero to make a victim impact statement, but offered him the opportunity to communicate the impact of the crime through alternative means.
Despite the sentencing, Clark expressed his intention to appeal the conviction, stating that he did not accept the imposed sentence. The judge reminded him of his appeal rights and acknowledged Clark’s decision.