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Vashon man found guilty of arson in Christmas Day sailboat fire

Lyman Houghton, a Vashon man charged with starting the Christmas Day fire that destroyed his 31-foot sailboat two years ago, was found guilty of first-degree arson Friday after a week-long hearing in King County Superior Court.

Houghton was also convicted of making false statements, according to Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecutor. A sentencing date has not yet been set. Houghton, who had been free on bail after his arrest last September, was taken to jail to await sentencing. He's being held there on a $100,000 bond, Donohoe said.

The standard sentencing range for first degree arson is 31 to 41 months.

County prosecutors say Houghton, 59, a carpenter and the divorced father of two young children, burned his boat because he was more than $3,000 behind on payments to the owner, who carried the contract for the $15,000 fiberglass Catalina.

Houghton, who lived on the boat that he moored at the Dockton Marina, where he worked as a volunteer caretaker for the King County park, said at the time of the fire that he believed he was the victim of arson and that extensive smoke damage from the fire had made his boat unlivable. He later told investigators that he believed teenagers may have tried to burn his boat, noting that he had plenty of enemies because of the role he played at the county-owned park, where he often called 911 to report suspicious activity.

According to a 19-page court document filed at the time of Houghton's arrest, there were many signs that the fire was intentionally lit, including a strong gasoline odor coming from the boat, red gasoline containers poked with holes and leaking liquid and a gas-soaked cardboard box packed with candles. Investigators found one partially melted gas container with the letters L, Y and M and part of an A on it, even though Houghton had denied having any gas cans on the boat.

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