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Zirtzman acquitted in deadly fire

Zirtzman acquitted in deadly fire

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CEDAR RAPIDS(AP) - A man accused of setting a fire that killed a father and daughter last year is a free man.

A Linn County jury on Wednesday found Brian Zirtzman not guilty of murder and arson in the April 5, 2003, fire that killed his Cedar Rapids neighbors - Jay Grahlman, 38, and his 6-year-old daughter, Jaymie Grahlman.

Grahlman's wife, Vickie Reed-Grahlman and three other children survived.

"The victory belongs to the Lord, the lawyers and the jury," said Zirtzman's twin brother, Brad.

Brian Zirtzman, 40, was all smiles as he lugged three yellow plastic bags of clothes and books to the lobby of the jail where his family greeted him.

Zirtzman had been in jail since June 2003, unable to post a $500,000 bond.

Zirtzman, who lived across the street, spent the afternoon and evening of the fire at the Grahlman's home playing cards and watching TV.

The fire broke out shortly before midnight, rousing Reed-Grahlman.

During the trial, she testified that she pulled her husband and three of their four children out of the house, but was unable to reach her husband's daughter, Jaymie.

Firefighters later found the girl in the bathtub. She was alive, but unconscious. She died the next day.

Her father died April 9 from his injuries.

Zirtzman was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson in June 2003 after he confessed to starting the fire.

In the courtroom Wednesday, Zirtzman showed no emotion as he waited for the jury's verdict.

After the judge read the verdict, Zirtzman's mother, Orion Zirtzman, collapsed sobbing.

"We're very pleased with the verdict, but our hearts go out to the Grahlmans. We're very mindful of their loss," defense attorney Casey Jones said.

"It's hard because there is another family that wants closure," co-counsel Julie Trachta said. "They still don't know what happened to their loved ones."

Family and friends of the Grahlmans filed out of the courtroom quietly.

The defense case focused on several issues attorneys believed were key to the jury's verdict: His confession, a psychologist said, was too complex to be made by a man with a 67 IQ. An insurance investigator concluded the fire was accidental or of unknown origin. No physical evidence tied Zirtzman to the fire, and he had no motive. And perhaps Grahlman had accidentally started the fire.

The prosecution emphasized other points: Zirtzman was the last person awake at the Grahlman house. The fire started just as Zirtzman described in his confession, and his motive for starting it was to be a hero.

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