By David Atchison / Daily Home Staff Writer / firstname.lastname@example.org
PELL CITY - Motions by the state to dismiss arson-related charges against two local women were granted by the courts last week.
Pending criminal cases were dropped against Heather Rich Whitten, 45, of Riverside, and Angela Mitchell, 46, of Pell City.
"Currently, the state does not have enough evidence to pursue this case," special prosecutor Kandice Pickett wrote in her motions to dismiss the cases without prejudice. "The state requests a dismissal of the charge without prejudice so that the state may reissue these charges if more evidence becomes public."
Whitten was charged with second-degree arson and criminal conspiracy to commit arson in the second degree in connection with the arson of a commercial building in Riverside that was being used as a church.
Mitchell was charged, along with her husband, Ricky Mitchell, 51, who died the night before he was scheduled to appear in court after a motion was filed to revoke his bond, on charges of insurance fraud, second-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson.
"It's been quite a tumultuous turn of events over the last two months, however, we agree with the state's assessment that there was insufficient evidence for the case to go forward," said Birmingham attorney Tommy Spina. "The Mitchell family is certainly grateful for the disposition of the criminal cases by dismissal, but incredibly saddened by the unexpected loss of their husband and father, Rick."
Spina said a civil case remains pending over the refusal of the insurance company to pay the property claim for damages that resulted from the fire.
Whitten, a former teacher who pleaded guilty to the 2012 second-degree rape of a juvenile boy, was arrested in late July, while the Mitchells turned themselves into authorities in early August after being indicted by a St. Clair County grand jury.
"We are happy that upon a thorough review the state acknowledged the lack of any credible evidence associating Ms. Whitten with any crimes," said Pell City Attorney Erskine Funderburg, who represented Whitten. "It is unfortunate that she had to endure the negative publicity with being accused, however, justice has prevailed for Ms. Whitten."
St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Bill Weathington granted the motion to dismiss in the case involving Whitten, and St. Clair County Circuit Court Phillip Seay granted the motion filed by the state to dismiss in the case against Mitchell.