Archbold, OH

Bryan Not Guilty Of 2007 Wauseon Fire

There was no single piece of evidence that led to the acquittal of Charles L. Bryan, Jr., on charges of arson and insurance fraud.

Bryan was indicted in August 2009 on 14 counts in connection with two fires in his restaurant, Doc Holliday’s, in downtown Wauseon.

A January 2007 fire at the restaurant caused minimal damage, but an April 14, 2007 blaze destroyed more than half a block of the downtown. Six businesses and a storefront church were burned out.

After an attempt to move the trial to another city (called a change of venue) failed, a bench trial was held in Fulton County. In a bench trial, the prosecution and defense plead their cases to a judge; no jury is present.

The trail started Aug. 30 and closed Sept. 8, with Charles S. Wittenberg, the visiting judge, acquitting Bryan.

Jerome Phillips, Bryan’s defense attorney, said in rendering the verdict, Wittenberg pointed to a number of factors that led him away from a conviction:

•Bryan did not receive a financial windfall as a result of the fire.

•Bryan was not in severe financial difficulties; his wife’s income was sufficient to sustain the family.

•The night of the fire, Bryan left the receipts from the evening in the restaurant. Phillips said it was one of the restaurant’s busier nights, and the cash and credit card receipts totaled thousands of dollars.

•Bryan was at the restaurant that night because two employees failed to show up for work. Records show he was home by 12:30 am; the fire was not discovered until 2 am.

•Phillips said it was not likely the fire burned over an hour and a half without being discovered. Fire investigators found no evidence of a timing device in the wreckage.

Investigation Faulted

Phillips said the defense believed the fire investigation was incomplete; once the investigator narrowed the cause to arson, he excluded all other possibilities.

The defense argued the investigation was not handled properly, not following National Fire Protection Association guidelines for arson investigation.

“We argued it was not an arson fire, based on the investigation,” Phillips said.

An expert witness for the defense said the cause of the fire should have been classifi ed as undetermined.

The expert noted all the electrical components in the room where the fire started, including a television, computer and computer monitor, lamps, and a power strip, were given a cursory inspection, then destroyed.

“Even if the court found the fire was an arson, there was not sufficient evidence,” to prove Bryan started the fire, Phillips said.

A Second Attempt?

When Scott Haselman, Fulton County prosecuting attorney, was asked if his offi ce would attempt to charge anyone else with the arson fire, he said, “No other criminal prosecutions are anticipated in connection with the fire at issue.”

Could the prosecutor appeal or seek a retrial against Bryan?

“Because this matter was tried on the merits, the ‘double jeopardy’ clause of the United States Constitution prevents any appeal of the trial court’s decision, and precludes a retrial of Mr. Bryan,” Haselman said.


Phillips said he did not know Bryan’s future plans. Bryan attempted to build a new restaurant in Wauseon, but the project stumbled when he was indicted, and was sold.

The new restaurant building should be open in the next few weeks.

Phillips said while Bryan was acquitted on the criminal charges, he is still tainted by the court of public opinion.

People will continue to believe Bryan set the fire but caught a break in court or got off on a technicality, Phillips said.

He said Bryan has been living under a cloud since the 2007 fire.

When Wittenberg announced his decision, Phillips said Bryan turned to him and said, “Thank you for giving me my life back.”

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