CLINTON — A pre-trial conference is scheduled this week for a Clinton man charged with first-degree arson.

Marquise D. Smith, 28, of Clinton, was charged in late November with first-degree arson in connection with an incident that occurred in September. A pre-trial conference is slated for Thursday at the Clinton County Courthouse, where a jury trial will be scheduled. Smith has pleaded not guilty. First-degree arson is a Class B felony, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years.

According to court documents, Smith was arrested Nov. 29 after an investigation into a fire at an apartment complex at 431 Fifth Ave. South on Sept. 1. Clinton firefighters were dispatched to the complex for a structure fire at 11:16 p.m. Sept. 1, where multiple families reside. When Clinton Police Department officers arrived on scene, they were advised the fire was in apartment 12, which was leased to Smith's alleged estranged wife.

Several families were present inside their apartments at the time of the blaze and were forced to evacuate. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire. The fire caused damage to a common hallway, apartment door, floor and to the interior of apartment 12. Furniture and personal property in apartment 12 also were damaged.

According to information presented while on scene of the fire, a custody conflict had arisen between one of the complex's occupants and Smith. According to an interview conducted on scene, the woman claimed Smith threatened to burn her in her home if she failed to return their child to him.

Samples of fire debris, which included flooring, were collected and submitted to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab for examination and analysis. The DCI crime lab indicated gasoline was detected in each item analyzed.

Clinton police officers met with Smith on Sept. 19. Smith said on the night of the fire, he did attempt to contact the alleged victim by telephone, but stated the calls were intercepted by her boyfriend. Smith also said he contacted the Clinton Police Department on Sept. 1 and requested officers meet him at the complex. He requested the officer to help him gain custody of his child, but the officer was unable to fulfill the request.

A short time later, Smith walked back from his residence of 118 S. Sixth St. to the complex, where he found a container of gasoline outside a residence adjacent to 431 Fifth Ave. South. According to information presented by police, Smith admitted to taking gasoline from the container, entering a common hallway at the building and tossing gasoline on the base of the door leading to apartment 12. Smith said he then used a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline. When the gasoline ignited into flames, the fire blew back on Smith, but he said he was not injured.

After he allegedly ignited the fire, Smith ran back to his residence.

Lt. Richard Johannsen, Clinton Fire Department fire investigator, completed an arson investigation and concluded the fire was incendiary in nature with no ignition source present during the investigation. Johannsen added the ignition source was either consumed by the fire or removed from the scene.

In September 2016, Smith was granted a deferred judgment by Judge Mark Smith on a felony charge of possession of a firearm by a domestic violence offender. He was sentenced to two years of probation. A probation violation was filed Dec. 8. At the time of sentencing, Judge Mark Smith warned Marquise Smith if he did not comply with the terms of probation, the least that would happen is having a felony on his record, and said he could be incarcerated.

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