A Billings man arrested on suspicion of arson earlier this week told law enforcement he had been drinking that night after arguing with his wife and has only limited memories of what happened afterward.
Edward Michael Halvorson, 43, appeared in Yellowstone County Justice Court Friday facing five felony charges of arson.
Court documents show that a fire marshal with the Billings Fire Department requested BPD detectives investigate the fire after he observed several "unusual" things around the house on the 700 block of Terry Avenue.
Deputy Fire Marshal Jaime Fender told BPD the fire originated in a basement office, an attic door had been propped open with a mop, books and papers belonging to Halvorson's wife had been thrown into an alleyway behind the house, fire and smoke detectors had been "tampered with or completely pulled off the ceiling and walls," and that other items had been thrown around inside the house.
Fender also alerted BPD to text messages between Halvorson and Halvorson's wife that suggested they had been fighting.
The fire was reported at about 1:20 a.m.
Before BPD learned about the fire marshal's observations, police had already dealt with Halvorson that night. An officer who had arrived during the fire had found the man trying to crawl into the burning house through a sliding glass door.
An officer pulled at Halvorson and told him it was too dangerous to go inside before escorting him to the front yard. The officer was told by Halvorson that no one was in the house and that his wife was at a party.
He was "insistent on going back inside," the house and later tried to enter again while firefighters were battling the blaze, according to court documents.
When officers moved to stop him he took "an aggressive stance" toward one officer, after which police took him to the ground and handcuffed him. He was later released and taken to a hotel.
Two hours later, Halvorson returned to the area, where he was seen hiding from officers at the corner of Custer Avenue and Eight Street West, according to court documents. Halvorson told police "he wanted to retrieve his shoes from the home."
Court documents indicate that it was sometime after that encounter when police spoke to the fire marshal about the unusual circumstances inside the house.
Halvorson was then interviewed by BPD Detective Steve Hallam. Halvorson denied he had been arguing with his wife and said she gone out for the night with friends after they came home from a movie at around 8:45 p.m. Halvorson said when they got home he found his wife's papers scattered in the alleyway but that it was too late to pick them up.
Halvorson said smoke alarms woke him up. He also said the alarms that had been removed because "they were always going off," according to court documents. He denied setting the fire and denied arguing with his wife. After being shown text messages, he "admitted that he had been angry with his wife."
BPD then interviewed Halvorson's wife, who told police that she had stayed at a hotel the night of the fire after she and her spouse had been arguing.
"In the meantime, the defendant was arrested because he had disobeyed lawful orders and returned to the home yet another time," according to court documents.
Halvorson's wife told police that the downstairs office housed her "diplomas, paperwork, certificates" and other valuables.
She told police Halvorson has "impulsive anger issues," according to court documents.
After her interview, Halvorson's wife returned to the home. She said that her husband "appeared out of nowhere and attempted to get into her vehicle," so she drove off.
She called Hallam, who learned Halvorson had bonded out of jail. The detective agreed to walk her through the house. She told him that she found her good wine from her office had been consumed and the bottles left upstairs, one of them on the stove near a food package with the word "sorry" written on it, according to court documents.
Hallam interviewed Halvorson again. He admitted his wife had not been with friends and that he had lied about finding paperwork in the alley when they came home from the movie, saying later that he might have thrown it out after drinking, according to court documents.
He said his wife left the house after their argument and that he "didn't want her to leave and was under the impression that when she left it might be for the last time."
"He said he began drinking everything he could get his hands on," according to court documents. He said he wrote "sorry" on the food package to apologize for his behavior. He said the next thing he remembered was waking up next to the office "choking on smoke."
Damage to the home was estimated at $150,000 and investigators found that the fire had endangered a neighboring residence.
The gas line to a hot water heater in the downstairs office had been cut and, "based on the fire pattern on the water tank itself, it appeared that gas had ignited to a flame and was burning at one point."
All the basement's windows had been opened despite it being a cold night, according to court documents.
Friday, Halvorson's bond was set at $250,000. If released, he must consent to GPS monitoring, and he can't be within 300 feet of his wife.
Arson is punishable in Montana by up to 20 years in prison and or a fine of $50,000 or less.
Halvorson is scheduled to appear before District Court Judge Michael Moses on Nov. 15.