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Deaths Of 2 Witnesses Mean Charges Dropped Against Rim Fire Suspect

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The man indicted for the third-largest fire in California history near Yosemite National Park is no longer facing charges after the deaths of two witnesses.

Keith Emerald was accused of causing the devastating wildfire when he lost control of his campfire, but the U.S. Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss the charges on Friday.

In February, a 34-year-old key witness died after accidentally driving off a cliff while on the job. A month later, a second key witness died of a heart attack.

Defense attorney Linda Parisi says there is a way to record witness testimony before trial called a conditional exam, but the courts only grant the exam under exceptional circumstances, like if the witness is elderly or has a known medical condition. Otherwise, a judge likely wouldn't allow it.

"That would deny the jury the opportunity of being able to observe the demeanor of the witnesses and thats a critical part for the jury to make decisions," she said.

The U.S. Attorney's office says the death of both key witnesses was unexpected, and for now, no one will be held responsible for starting a wildfire that burned a quarter-million acres of California land.

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