The California Court of Appeal was asked to reverse a conviction for arson and insurance fraud, both five year felonies, because of what was claimed to be evidentiary errors. After a several week jury trial, Jasen Frank Meyn (Meyn)  was found guilty of three counts relating to a fire which burned his and his then-wife’s home in Napa County. Those three counts were for arson of a structure (Pen. Code, § 451, subd. (c)) and insurance fraud (§ 550, subd. (a)(5)). The trial court sentenced him to a generously short total prison term of four years. Meyn appealed. In The People v. Jasen Frank Meyn, No. A129362 (Cal.App. Dist.1 01/18/2012) the Court of Appeal reviewed the evidence and found it damning.


Meyn and Cherise Petker married in November 2005.  At about the same time they married, they bought the house at issue in this case, a house at 116 Ridgecrest Drive, Napa, for about $615,000. All of the cost of the home was covered by a first and second mortgage.

On the afternoon of July 28, 2006, at a time both Meyn and his wife were absent from their home, it started burning and soon became “fully engulfed” by the flames.

Before the fire Meyn read, and recorded in his computer, the following advice:

“Before you try to fake a fire, know how to do it properly. For instance, lots of the new carpeting on the market is now fire retardant, as there are many other sympathetic materials. So rather than start a fire in the middle of the room, start it under an electrical appliance or from a stove burner that has ‘carelessly’ been left on, or some other likely spot.

“Don’t ever use gasoline or other traceable materials to start your fire. Woodgrain alcohol is your best starter because it burns away all traces.”One good fire in an area that will create a lot of smoke from burning materials is preferred. Fire investigators can trace the origin of the fire, and two flames started simultaneously will immediately arouse suspicion.

“Never hang around to watch the fire you set. Police have been known to photograph the crowd; that’s how a lot of pyromaniacs get caught. Don’t let your curiosity get the better of you!”


Four neighbors of Meyn’s home on Ridgecrest Drive testified regarding what they saw before and during the fire. The furniture in the house at the time was “pretty scarce.” At about 1:00 a.m. on July 28, 2006, the day of the fire, a witness saw most of the lights in Meyn’s house on and, the following morning, a truck parked in front of the house.There was activity most of the day of the fire and Meyn was seen going and coming from the house via the front door, and then leaving the house via the garage door and driving away shortly before 5 p.m. In so doing, Meyn manually closed the garage door, and did not use the automatic door opener. About an hour later, Meyn’s house was on fire.

A next-door neighbor of Meyn, heard a loud explosion at about 5:40 p.m. on that day. She went outside on her deck and saw large flames coming out of Meyn’s house. Other neighbors went into the house through a side door and noted that it appeared to be vacant and that the fire was in the entry area of the house. The latter fact appeared to the witness, a professional firefighter with the El Cerrito Fire Department, to be an unusual feature of a fire.

Fire fighters from Cal Fire responded to the 911 call and were able to put part of the fire out, and keep it from spreading to the hillside outside, but not until the center of the house was largely consumed by the fire.

A prosecution witness testified that, in his opinion, the debris he had tested had come in contact with “liquid gasoline.” An expert testified that in his opinion the fire was caused by arson, specifically by ignition from the water heater, leakage from the propane tank in the house, and gasoline poured into the interior of the house. Regarding his own actions on the day of the fire, Meyn told investigators that he had had no problems with the garage door and had, on July 28, exited the garage “by use of the electric door button.” He also specifically denied he had started the fire.

Meyn’s former wife, Cherise, testified and confirmed that she and Meyn purchased the home for $615,000 with 100 percent financing. She testified that their two mortgage payments totaled approximately $4,000 a month, and that, after the purchase, they invested another $70,000 in “home improvements.” Meyn advised his wife that he had adequate assets to pay the two mortgages but, in fact, never paid either after May 2006. Cherise confirmed to him that, because of the 90-day period required before foreclosure, the lender (Washington Mutual) could, effective August 1, 2006, opt to change the locks and take possession of the house.

At some point of time during the winter of 2005-2006, Meyn advised Cherise that there appeared to be a problem with the foundation of their house, specifically that “the stilts had moved forward” which, she said, made him “concerned.” It would, he told her, cost them “somewhere between about $60,000 and $80,000 to fix.”

Meyn also told Cherise that he had lost his grandfather’s Navy watch in the fire, a watch he had always kept near the bed. In fact, however, he had not, and he never told her that he now had the watch (a watch he had told the police he had recovered from a kitchen drawer in the house after the fire). The fire department personnel who responded to the fire had, however, searched for that watch after the fire, but had not found it. It was subsequently found in a console of Meyn’s truck in 2007, during the service of a search warrant at Meyn’s (then) Long Beach apartment. The police officer who found it had been one of the officers who had searched for the watch in the burnt house in 2006, at Meyn’s request.

Two contractors and one structural engineer testified that Meyn had consulted them about the condition of the Napa house in early 2006. One contractor told him that fixing the major foundation problem the house had would cost about $250,000. Another contractor estimated the cost to be over $100,000. The structural engineer testified that he looked at the house and its foundation in May 2006, and told Meyn that it would not be possible to “repair this house because the whole hillside was moving and there was no way to stop it from moving . . . [and] then the house would be subject to a lot of different movements which tend to break it up.”


The house was insured by Farmer’s Insurance, but its policy did not cover earth movement. A Farmer’s executive testified that Meyn reported the claim for the fire to his home the day after the fire. He later filed a written “proof of loss” form. The Farmer’s witness testified that its policy provided coverage of $380,000 for the house itself, plus $285,000 for personal property contents and $190,000 for additional living expenses.


The charges against Meyn derived from that fire and involved evidence occurring both before and after it. Trial by jury commenced on April 12, 2010, and concluded on May 5, 2010. On May 11, 2010, after two plus days of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict convicting Meyn of all charged offenses.

There Was No Abuse of Discretion in Admitting the Evidence of Meyn’s “Change of Identity” Query to His Wife or the “Arson” Material Found on His Computer.

Bearing in mind that the first count of the information charging Meyn was for the commission of arson in violation of section 451, subdivision (c), it was surely appropriate for the jury to be told, and to be able to see and hear, a portion of a publication that had been downloaded onto his computer in January 2006 (and revisited 10 days later), and a portion which dealt very specifically with how to commit arson and get away with it.

In summary on the altered appearance issue, the combination of Meyn’s “different identifications” conversation with Cherise on the cruise and the downloaded information about false identifications were clearly relevant to an effort by the prosecution to show that Meyn was attempting (even if arguably ineptly) to disguise his appearance at or around the time he was attempting to commit arson.


Amateurs should never attempt an arson-for-profit scheme. Mr. Meyn read up on arson, learned what accelerants to use, what evidence to avoid and how to avoid arrest. He left that information in his computer so that the police could find it.

Meyn did everything wrong. He knew his house had little or no value because of earth movement, he had obtained a 100% mortgage in a state where there is a statute that prevents a mortgage holder from suing for the difference between the value of the property and the mortgage, and yet decided to burn the house.

The local police and fire investigators did a thorough job collecting evidence and presenting experts who established how and why the fire happened. Since fire is dangerous, could have spread to a hillside and neighboring properties and could have injured or killed someone, Mr. Meyn is fortunate that he was sentenced to only four years in prison especially since he had good advice on how to get away with arson but decided to not follow the advice.

Barry Zalma, Inc.

© 2012 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, is a California attorney, insurance consultant and expert witness specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud. Mr. Zalma serves as a consultant and expert, almost equally, for insurers and policyholders.

He founded Zalma Insurance Consultants in 2001 and serves as its senior consultant. He recently published the e-books, “Zalma on Diminution in Value Damages – 2012,”“Zalma on Insurance,” “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose — 2011,” “Zalma on Rescission in California,” “Arson for Profit,” “Insurance Fraud,” and others that are available at

Mr. Zalma can also be seen on World Risk and Insurance News’ web based television program “Who Got Caught.