by Emily Waldrep
Tuesday, May 27, James Lee Ard turned down a plea offer from Tyler County Assistant District Attorney Dan Hunt of 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. James was the defendant facing one charge of 1st Degree Felony Arson of a Habitation, and three charges of 2nd Degree Felony Burglary of a Habitation. On Thursday, May 29, James was found guilty by a Tyler County jury and sentenced to 20 years.
According to Hunt, in 2012, Ard had moved his camper trailer to his step-grandfather's hunting property south of Warren. His step-grandfather, Allen Ard, allowed James to live on the property until James could get on his feet and get a place of his own. Allen also lived on the property in a home he and his family had built. Allen's sister, Ludie Meyers, was living in Allen's home and caring for him. Mary Landers, Allen's daughter, had built a camp house on the property, and Allen had a travel trailer on the property.
James Ard soon moved his girlfriend to his travel trailer. Later, Ard and his girlfriend picked up her father, David Hunter, from prison and moved him into Allen's travel trailer. Ard, his girlfriend, and Hunter were all living on Hunters' Social Security check and Lone Star Card. According to reports, they would get Allen Ard, Lander and Meyers to give them money for food, beer and cigarettes.
James Ard would also take food from the refrigerator in Allen Ard's home without permission.
James Ard would have friends over to the property to drink and party, and his friends would ride four-wheelers throughout the woods, make noise and leave trash around the property.
Allen Ard asked James Ard to leave several times, as did Meyers and Landers. Ard ignored them and Allen and Meyers had to move from the property due to James Ards activities. In August 2012, Allen, Landers and Meyers cut James off and told him he had to leave. Ard chose to ignore them, but was angry that they were cutting off his money, since he was unemployed and never attempted to get a job, Hunt said.
Sometime late Friday, August 24, or early Saturday, August 25, James got drunk and used a shot gun to blow holes through walls and doors of all the buildings on the property. He broke out almost every window, tore air conditioner window units out and destroyed them and tore open a locked freezer and stole frozen food from it. Hunt said he also took microwave ovens, a popcorn popper, two saws-alls, an electric fan, clothing, and numerous other items from all the buildings and put them in his trailer. As James was burglarizing Landers camp house, he knocked over a kerosene lantern and started a fire. He made no attempt to put out the fire, and did not call the fire department or 9-1-1. The camp house burned to the ground. The only building on the property without damage was James Ards trailer.
About 9 a.m. that Saturday, Landers arrived at Allen Ards deer camp and immediately saw the still-smoldering ruins of her camp house along with the other extensive damage.
"Mary called 9-1-1 at that time," Hunt said. "James Ard was nowhere to be found, and the door to his trailer was wide open. Sgt. Ricky Coker of the Tyler County Sheriff's Office arrived to investigate and observed all the damage, took pictures and statements. Mary showed Sgt. Coker all the items inside the trailer, including a pizza still warm in the microwave oven and a package of frozen berries still laying, completely frozen, on the counter which led police to believe James Ard had left in a hurry when he heard Mary arriving."
According to reports, Ard was seen at about 10:30 a.m. assaulting David Hunter in Hardin County, about 15 miles from Allen Ards deer camp.
The next day, James Ard returned to Allen Ards camp, and was arrested. James confessed to the crimes during an interview with Sgt. Coker at the Tyler County Sheriff's Office.
Dan Hunt, Assistant District Attorney, presented three witnesses during the trial. He says that Mary Landers testified to what she found when she arrived and Ludie Meyers testified to what she observed at Allen's deer camp when she arrived around 9:20 a.m. that Saturday. Sgt. Coker testified to what he observed on arrival, and his interview with Ard. Sgt. Coker's pictures of the scene and the video recording of the interview with James were entered into evidence and displayed for the jury. It took the jury less than an hour to agree on a Guilty verdict. It took slightly longer for them to agree on a 20 year prison sentence.
"James Lee Ard is a con artist", said Dan Hunt. "He is also a very angry, selfish man. He has at least 17 arrests for crimes ranging from Driving While Intoxicated to Assault Family Violence to drug possessions. He has never held a permanent job. He has always mooched of the goodwill and kindness of his relatives. Now he will have some time to think about his actions and choices."
James is waiting to plead on the three burglaries. The plea hearing is scheduled for June 12.
James Ard will be sentenced to 10 years in prison on each of the three burglary charges. The sentences will run concurrently with the 20-year sentence he received in the Arson case.
"The message criminals can take from this," Hunt said, "is that Tyler County residents are fed up with crime. And, Tyler County will prosecute you if you commit a crime. If you insist on being a criminal, you need to move somewhere else."