Yesterday, Benjamin Gilmore, a former Occupy Fort Collins protester who makes his living as a beekeeper, wassentenced
to eight years behind bars for a 2011 fire in Old Town that caused $10 million in damage.
At the sentencing hearing, Gilmore repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and he's got many supporters behind him -- including filmmaker Lawrence Johnston, whose documentary, Burning the Beekeeper: The Benjamin David Gilmore Story, lays out the case for innocence. See the film in its entirety and get more details below.
As reported by the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the four-story Penny Flats building in Old Town -- mere steps away from the Occupy Fort Collins encampment at the time -- went up in flames on October 24, 2011.
Afterward, a Rolex with Gilmore's name inscribed on the back was found in the wreckage of the fire, reportedly in two pieces on separate floors. The watch became an important piece of evidence against Gilmore, who ran a local business called Copoco's Honey. He says the watch had been stolen.
In the end, Gilmore was charged in the crime, but he has consistently maintained that he didn't set the blaze. Instead, he and his supporters point to Gerardo "Clutter" Salazar, a man who'd allegedly said he'd thrown a Molotov cocktail into the building, thus starting the conflagration.
The contradictory claims led to a mistrial in the first attempt to convict Gilmore, in September 2012. But prosecutors went back to court, and because Salazar had died in the interim, the defense team's efforts were severely handicapped.
In October, a new jury convicted Gilmore, and yesterday, he was sentenced to eight years for the crime. Moreover, his request to remain free while appealing was denied. As reported by 7News, he was crying when he was led away in handcuffs after giving his wife and nine-month-old son one last hug. In the meantime, courthouse protesters affiliated with the Justice for Ben Facebook page made it clear they stand behind Gilmore. They liken his case to that of Tim Masters, who was convicted of murder but later cleared due to DNA evidence. Masters served nearly a decade in prison; in 2010, he was awarded $4.1 million in compensation from the Larimer County judicial district and $5.9 million from the City of Fort Collins.
Look below to see Burning the Beekeeper, a collaboration between director Johnston and narrator Stacy Lynne, described as a "passionate truth-seeker." That's followed by a 7News video in which Gilmore defends his innocence. By the way, his reference to prosecutors twisting his words in the latter refers to a tape played in court in which Gilmore can be heard saying, "The intention was never to hurt anybody."
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Follow That Story archive circa June 2010: "Tim Masters's settlement from Fort Collins over improper murder conviction: $5.9 million."