Will Chelsea Jo Strube Walk in 'Big Bag of Crazy' Arson Case?
SAN ANGELO, TX — It was crowded as potential jurors waited in line outside the Tom Green County Courthouse Monday to go through security anticipating being selected to be on the jury in the arson trial of Chelsea Strube, the woman accused by fire investigators of attempting to set fire to the car owned by Strube's ex-lover's new girlfriend. When investigators searched Strube's car later, they said they found a bag full of fire starting materials with the words emblazoned on the outside reading, "Big Bag of Crazy."
The incident happened in 2015. Now four years later, the case was finally going to trial.
Over 70 jurors made their way through security and upstairs to courtroom A for jury selection. Strube was in the front of the courtroom facing the potential jurors.
Witnesses who were called to testify also made the trek through courthouse security and were waiting down the hall.
Visiting Senior District Judge Brock Jones was in chambers and prosecuting and defense attorneys were present as well.
After several minutes, a court representative entered the courtroom from the judge's chambers and called several names of potential jurors who were not present in the courtroom.
After another few minutes, the court representative announced that the jurors were free to go and that the trial had been continued until July.
No reason was given for the continuance.
Strube is charged with arson and has been indicted on the charge by a Tom Green County grand jury.
San Angelo Police and Firefighters were called to a car fire in downtown San Angelo on Sept. 8, 2015. At the scene, investigators found evidence that indicated arson played a role in the car fire, and on Sept. 11, 2015, Karla Steppe, an investigator with the San Angelo Fire Marshal’s department, filed an official complaint with the Tom Green County Justice of the Peace against Chelsea Jo Strube, then 32, of San Angelo.
According to the complaint, Steppe had “good reason to believe and does believe and charge that Chelsea Jo Strube, Defendant, intentionally and knowingly [started] a fire by placing a white fabric into the gas tank along with a green plastic bottle containing a flammable liquid at a motor vehicle and igniting the flammable liquid with intent to damage and destroy a vehicle.”
When deputies with the Tom Green County Sheriff’s office and Steppe went to Strube’s residence in San Angelo, they identified her red Mustang in the garage. Strube told officials the Mustang did belong to her and gave them permission to search it.
During the search, the complaint said Steppe spotted items of interest.
“[Steppe] located a white canvas bag with the words ‘Big Bag of Crazy,’ and inside the bag in the back passenger seat were miscellaneous items,” stated the complaint.
Arson is a second degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 and restitution.
This trial has been delayed for years. On the docket, the original complaint was filed in Sept. 2015. The indictment came eight months later in May 2016. By our count, there have been 28 special or pre-trial hearings over the past four years. Among the items argued are whether or not the State can use contents seized in Strube's communications devices—her iPad, laptop and smart phone. Strube works for San Angelo defense attorney Stephanie Goodman and according to court documents, some of the files on those devices could have contained sensitive material protected under attorney-client privilege for other defendants. 51st DA Allison Palmer agreed in a letter to have any evidence from Strube's electronic devices screened by a third party if she used them in trial. She so far has chosen against it, documents state.
"In order to avoid further delay of trial, the State hereby announces that we will not offer said evidence against the defendant unless the defendant raised a defense that the State is improperly suppressing the above-listed evidence..." Palmer wrote the court in December 2018.
Palmer has also agreed to "abandon surplus language" from Strube's indictment. The indictment states that Strube used "a flammable liquid and..." The indictment was modified to strike those four words.
The case is also complicated by the changes at the City of San Angelo Fire Marshal's office. The Fire Marshal's office was the criminal investigator in this case. An internal squabble that led to allegations of tampering or suppressing evidence by then-Fire Marshal Ross Coleman led to his resignation. DA Palmer offered Coleman a pre-trial diversion and Coleman accepted two years probation in lieu of third-degree felony charges in the incident. See "How One Critical Error by the City Fire Marshal Ended a Stellar Career."
Fire investigators who will testify are no longer with the City of San Angelo. That may have led Palmer to request earlier this month that the defense counsel be suppressed from questioning the character of witnesses or the credibility of said witnesses unless the judge agrees on the line of questioning outside the presence of a jury.
Will Strube ever stand trial? Prosecutor Palmer is facing a wall of resistance on all fronts, chief among them are all of the delays and concessions she has provided to work through those delays.
This has some wondering if Strube will eventually win her case.
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