South Central District Judge John Grinsteiner won't allow testimony of an arson suspect's ex-wife who would speak to previous fire-related incidents allegedly involving the defendant.

Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Justin Schwarz sought testimony from Spencer Norton's ex-wife, Brandie Norton, who reported the defendant discussed and tried to start a fire when they lived together in Florida. Defender Kent Morrow sought to block the testimony.

In his order issued Friday, Grinsteiner said Schwarz offered no independent evidence to substantiate Brandie Norton's claims, neither of which was formally charged or investigated.

"As a result, it is difficult for the court to determine the reliability of Ms. Norton's statements without more information about the claims she may testify to, the context surrounding the claims or her motive for making those claims," the judge wrote, adding the Nortons are involved in a custody case, "giving Ms. Norton a motive to be untruthful."

Spencer Norton, 36, is charged in connection to a fire last fall that heavily damaged the south Bismarck home of his fiancee, Yvette Howell. His trial is set for May.

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