South Central District Judge John Grinsteiner will decide whether to allow the ex-wife of an accused arsonist to testify as to other fire incidents involving the defendant.

Last fall, Spencer Norton was charged with felony arson for allegedly starting a fire in the garage adjoining his fiancee's south Bismarck home. The fire heavily damaged the property, with a police investigation pointing to arson.

At a motion hearing Wednesday morning, attorneys argued over whether or not to allow Brandy Norton to testify to two other incidents involving fire when she and Spencer Norton lived together.

Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Justin Schwarz said she told Bismarck Police Detective Jon Lahr about the two previous incidents involving discussion or an attempt to start a fire.

"On the first instance, the defendant had stated to her that he wanted the Red Cross to come in and save them," Schwarz said. "On the second occasion, they were actually given notice they had to leave the residence, and she did note that it appeared some pizza boxes had been attempted to be started on fire on the stove."

Kent Morrow, Norton's public defender, said Schwarz shouldn't need the requested testimony.

"If they have sufficient evidence beyond this testimony, why do they need this testimony?" he said. "It's simply character evidence to show that Mr. Norton is a bad person prone to starting fires."

Grinsteiner said he would take the matter under advisement and issue an order likely within 10 days.

Norton's arson trial is set for May. Earlier this month, his fiancee, Yvette Howell, took a plea agreement for misdemeanor tampering with physical evidence, also related to the Nov. 7 house fire.

Norton, 36, is also set for a trial in April on felony terrorizing for alleged threats in jail against Lahr, who investigated the fire and arrested him.

Norton is being held at the Burleigh-Morton County Detention Center.

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