Zavalla police charge a suspected sex offender with arson

By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – An Angelina County man is sitting behind bars for a second time in recent months. Last fall he was charged with two felonies relating to sexual assault of a minor; this time its arson.

"I've been practicing law for a long time. This is kind of unusual even for me."

Attorney John Henry Tatum reacted to recent events surrounding his client Randy Keith Hester, who is back in jail.

"The allegation is he confessed it was for insurance money," said Tatum.

Hester is accused of setting fire to a home he and his grandfather owned and signed over to Tatum last fall.

"They both signed the deed over to me," said Tatum.

It was compensation for legal representation when Hester was charged with two felonies of sex assault.

"When it happened - if it happened - happened when he was 19 and she was 15," described Tatum.

According to a police affidavit: Hester sent the victim sexually explicit texts. A police interview with the victim uncovered a year-long relationship which included sexual contact.

"He's actually charged with improper conduct with a person who was 4 years younger than he is," said Tatum.

Tatum, now the homeowner, was allowing Hester and his grandfather to continue living in the house rent-free. Without his knowledge, they moved to Hudson before Christmas. However, a recent phone call made everything clear:

"It was a person from the fire marshal's office just told me she was investigating an arson case and she understood that I owned the house," said Tatum.

The fire was discovered when a friend of Hester asked Zavalla police to come with him to the home after receiving a call from Hester.

According to the affidavit, Hester told the friend to get what he wanted from the house because he planned to burn it down.

The problem with the plan - an insurance policy is invalid if you don't own the home.

"Because you have no insurable interest," said Tatum.

When questioned about the fire he admitted to law enforcement that he was responsible.

"There's damage. Smoke damage in the bathroom," said Tatum.

Though unsuccessful, his alleged attempt to burn down the house is still a charge of arson.

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