A trial date for the owner of the Red Steer restaurant and his cousin on arson charges was set Thursday after the two defendants were formally arraigned.
Both Tracy Smith and Jeremy Britt entered not guilty pleas to the charges of against them. Smith, the owner of the eatery, is charged with arson and Britt is charged with aggravated arson, because he has a prior conviction for arson. Smith also has separate cases against him, unrelated to the fire, alleging he passed checks with insufficient funds to cover the amounts. Those cases are trailing the arson case and Smith entered not guilty pleas for them on Thursday as well.
A jury trial for the two men is scheduled to start Feb. 21, 2012.
The Red Steer was severely damaged during a fire on May 28, 2009. The eatery has been closed since that day, though a second location opened in Modesto.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office contends Smith was motivated to set fire to the eatery because business was declining and he was badly in debt.
In April a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge ruled there was enough cause presented during a preliminary hearing to hold the two men over for a trial. The two defendants were scheduled to be formally arraigned on the charges a few weeks after the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, but the arraignment was postponed several times because of scheduling conflicts among the attorneys.
Both men are free on bail.
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