A Stanislaus County Superior Court judge ruled there was not enough cause to hold three Turlock women over on attempted murder charges for the fire they set at a vacant cheese plant, but ruled a trial on the arson charges would precede.
In making his ruling Thursday morning, Judge Scott Steffen said the district attorney’s office had not sufficiently proven its theory that Lanette Sullivan, Erika Clardy, and Wanda White set fire to the former Lactalis plant in a concerted effort to end the life of Terry Sump.
Sump lived in the vacant plant and took to the rafters to escape the three women after an argument turned physical.
Steffen cited Sump’s own assertion that he didn’t think the women were trying to kill him, but rather were out to scare him.
“I don’t see any evidence they had intent to kill,” Steffen said in his ruling.
The three women are accused of setting fire to the vacant cheese plant because Sullivan, who had been in a relationship with Sump, was angry with him over a $20 debt. In previous testimony, Sump said he and Sullivan had been fighting that February day and that he had forcibly removed her from the plant. He said Sullivan came back with White — her sister — and Clardy, White’s daughter. Sump said he climbed up to the rafters to avoid the three women and that he was up there when Clardy stated they should start a fire to “smoke him out.”
The fire ended up racing through the plant, leaving it a pile of burned rubble and causing an estimated $5 million in damage.
Steffen did rule that the women should be held over for trial on the arson charges. In doing so, he rejected the defense notion that it wasn’t a fire of an inhabited dwelling because the building wasn’t a dwelling.
Sump testified he had been living at the vacant cheese plant for about five years.
“That is as permanent a residence as he had,” Steffen said.
Steffen ordered bail reductions for all three women. Sullivan and Clardy had their bail amounts dropped to $200,000 each and White’s was lowered to $210,000, because of a prior offense.
Sullivan also is facing a charge of having contraband items in jail.
All three remain in custody at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center.
A formal arraignment for the women is set for Jan. 7, 2014.