A defendant entered a plea of no contest in Albany County District Court on Wednesday in an arson case.
Former Cavalryman Steakhouse general manager Keith Stackhouse entered the plea a week before his scheduled court date. He was charged with arson in the third degree for intentionally starting a fire and intentionally, or recklessly, destroying or damaging property valued at $200 or more.
A plea of no contest carries the same results in the court as a guilty plea. The defendant will face the punishments of the charges, but they do not admit guilt for the case. There are several reasons why one would plead no contest. One is to continue to contest a civil case related to the crime where a guilty plea would have an adverse effect. Another scenario could see a defendant refusing to recount the events of the crime under oath, but is willing to accept the punishment.
As part of the plea deal, the count of possession of explosive or incendiary apparatus with unlawful intent was dismissed. In exchange for the plea, he is expected to receive probation and pay restitution for the property damage. The plea deal is not binding on the court, meaning the judge has the final decision during sentencing on the punishment.
Stackhouse is the suspect in a case involving a fire in the basement of the Cavalryman Steakhouse south of Laramie on U.S. Highway 287. According to the affidavit, the Laramie Fire Department was dispatched to the restaurant Nov. 29. The fire was already extinguished before first responders arrived. The fire melted through a plastic pipe connected to the water heater and the water from the pipe put out the fire.
Stackhouse, the general manager at the time, noticed water on the floor and fire damage and notified the fire department when he arrived in the morning.
He told investigators he had initially driven there to retrieve paperwork at 1:30 a.m. He said he drove through the parking lot but did not stop, claiming he was making sure everything was OK.
But investigators received surveillance video from the owner of the Cavalryman Steakhouse. After reviewing the tape, they found a subject entering the building at 2:35 a.m. The subject went to the room in the basement containing the water heater. After the subject left, flames were visible in the room the subject had entered. The investigator identified the subject as Stackhouse.
The video showed Stackhouse returning in the morning. He went to the room the fire took place and retrieved several items. He threw the items into the dumpster on the recording. One of the items identifiable on the video was a Sterno can, which was later recovered. In an interview, Stackhouse told investigators he had not removed or altered anything around the fire, aside from turning off the water and dealing with electrical hazards, he said.