Appeals court affirms prison sentence in Bird Island arson

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a 41-month prison sentence for a Bird Island man convicted of burning down his home in subzero temperatures with his dog trapped inside it. Two firefighters were injured fighting the blaze in the cold and firefighting equipment was damaged.

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Jeffrey George Ackerson Jr.

OLIVIA — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed a 41-month prison sentence for a Bird Island man who burned down his home with the family dog inside it.

In a decision released Monday, the court ruled that the District Court in Renville County did not abuse its discretion by denying a motion by Jeffrey George Ackerson Jr., 36, for a downward departure from sentencing guidelines. He was sentenced Jan. 14, 2019, to the minimum recommended sentence for his conviction of first-degree arson.

In his appeal, Ackerson argued that a departure was warranted because he was amenable to probation, had taken responsibility for his crime, and showed remorse. He also argued that he had mental health issues best addressed outside of prison and that the fire was not as dangerous as some since it was his own single-family structure.

The Renville County Attorney’s Office argued that the defendant had denied setting the fire until confronted with evidence three weeks after the event. The County Attorney’s Office also said that two firefighters suffered injuries fighting the blaze in subzero temperatures and that firefighting equipment was damaged. The house was being remodeled at the time and presented a higher risk of collapsing as the firefighters fought the blaze, according to the court files.

The court records indicate that Ackerson set a lighted torch on the sawdust-covered floor of his workshop in the house on Jan. 15, 2018. He walked by his sleeping dog as he exited it. Ackerson and his spouse at the time had purchased the house for $50,000 and with remodeling work were $148,000 in debt at the time of the fire.


He pleaded guilty to felony charges of first-degree arson and animal cruelty on Oct. 24, 2018. A charge of insurance fraud was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

According to the state Department of Corrections online offender locator , Ackerson is currently housed in a non-DOC facility while attached to the Institution Community Work Crews Affordable Homes Program, which builds affordable housing in partnership with nonprofit community agencies.

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