Jury acquits defendant in Burke County arson

A Burke County Superior Court jury this week acquitted a man of arson charges in the fires that destroyed a hunting lodge and a house in 2008.


Defense attorney Michael C. Garrett said Wednesday that the jury did not think Jerry Harden committed the crimes.

Harden loves the woods and the outdoors and would never have burned down such structures, Garrett said.

"It's tragic that the buildings were burned -- they were such beautiful reminder of times gone by -- but I'm grateful to the jury for hearing the evidence and realizing the prosecution had the wrong man," Garrett said.

Harden was accused of setting the fires at Millhaven Plantation, which is owned by companies owned by the William S. Morris III family.

Harden and two other men were arrested on poaching charges on Millhaven Plantation about two weeks before the fires.

District Attorney Ashley Wright said in an e-mail Wednesday that Harden's estranged wife, Linda Harden, pleaded guilty in January to two counts of second-degree arson and was sentenced to seven years of probation.

"As far as we are concerned, the correct people were identified and prosecuted in this arson case. As for charges in Screven County, we will be talking with their DA's office," Wright wrote.

A historic train depot, which was also burned, was in that county.