Whitefish Man Sentenced in Arson Case

James Langley was sentenced to 10 years with the Department of Corrections with five years suspended after he set his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire

By Justin Franz

A Whitefish man was sentenced to a 10-year commitment with the state Department of Corrections with five years suspended after he set his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire in October 2013.

James Wallace Langley, 35, appeared in Flathead County District Court on June 11, nearly five months after he pleaded no contest to charges of felony arson. Langley was accused of arson after DNA evidence connected him to the scene of the fire.

The sentencing came just weeks after Langley tried to withdraw his no contest plea. Langley’s attorney, Jack Quatman, argued that a district court judge displayed bias during a previously scheduled sentencing hearing.

In January, Quatman and prosecutors crafted a deal where Langley would enter a plea of no contest and the state would recommend a six-year differed sentence. Langley entered his plea in front of Judge Robert Allison on Jan. 22. A no contest plea is entered when defendants acknowledge that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them but still maintain that they are innocent.

At the initial sentencing hearing, however, Judge Allison told Langley and his attorney that he would not follow the plea agreement because of the seriousness of the crime. Allison said he would give the defendant more time to come up with testimony as to why he should be given a deferred sentence and the sentencing was postponed. On April 20, Langley filed a motion to withdraw his plea. In the motion, Quatman argued that Allison displayed a bias when he likened lighting someone’s house on fire to firing randomly into a home with an assault rifle and that it was clear he has “very strong personal feelings concerning arson.” Judge Allison later denied Langley’s motion to withdraw.

According to court documents, the Whitefish Fire Department responded to an early morning fire on Oct. 8, 2013 on Highland Drive. One of the residents told police that a flash outside their window woke them. When they looked into their yard they found an oil can and the siding of the house on fire. The resident put the fire out, but later the man noticed smoke was coming out of the light fixtures.

The homeowners told detectives that they believed their daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Langley, had set the fire. Langley denied the allegations and let police take a DNA sample from him. Later, Langley admitted that he was at the victims’ house early Oct. 8. The DNA evidence Langley voluntarily gave later connected him to the oil can and he was charged with arson on Feb. 3, 2014.

Following an assessment, Langley will be placed in a state correctional facility or supervision program operated by the Department of Corrections.