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Austin man pleads guilty to sexual conduct, arson charges

An Austin man pleaded  guilty to charges of sexual conduct and arson as part of a plea deal Wednesday in Mower County District Court.

James Edward Slavan, 63

James Edward Slavan, 63, of Austin plead guilty to second degree criminal sexual conduct-victim under 13-felony as part of the plea agreement.

Slavan also pleaded guilty to first degree arson-dwelling-felony from a separate case, also as part of a plea agreement.

Charges of predatory offender fail to register-felony and four counts of first degree attempted murder will be dismissed at the sentencing as part of the agreements.

Court documents state a woman called police on July 29, 2018, to report that a neighbor, later identified as Slavan, had tried to molest her 10-year-old daughter. The victim had brought her bike to Slavan’s house to get it fixed, but when her mother told her to go get it, she said she was “scared” of Slavan because he hugged her and tried to touch her breasts.

An officer retrieved the girl’s bike from Slavan and learned that he was previously convicted of a predatory crime.

The victim told police she and Slavan were in the garage when he began hugging her and put his hand under her shirt. She said he tried to kiss her, but she moved her face away. When she told him she had to go home, he said, “Not yet.”

Police arrested Slavan for sexual assault and spoke to a woman who resides at the residence, but was not home at the time of the incident. She reported that Slavan had been employed at a local grocery store for 14 months and that he frequently fixed bikes for kids in the area.

An officer reviewed Slavan’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Predatory Offender Registration, which allegedly showed his last employment update on March 1, 2016, but a call to the grocery store’s human resources manager revealed Slavan had been working there since May 2017.

Slavan was arrested and charged in connection to an Aug. 14 fire at 1201 Third Ave. NW.  Court documents state that Austin Police and Fire were dispatched at 3:13 p.m. on Aug. 14 to the fire. The reporting parties indicated they were trapped and that the landlord, Slavan, had started the fire.

First responders observed people yelling from the upstairs apartment and saw flames below the door to the upstairs apartment and on the deck. Firefighters were able to breach the door and rescue the tenant, an adult male. A visitor, an adult female, cut her way through a window screen and had to be rescued via ladder.

The man said Slavan was mad at him and had been harassing him and his friends. He said the harassment had been worse since reporting Slavan, who lived on the main floor, during a domestic situation several weeks before the fire.

The man said before the fire, Slavan had been pounding on the door loudly demanding to be let in. After refusing to let Slavan in, the man said he saw drops dripping down on the floor by the door and fluid in the gap between the door and the floor. Within a few seconds he saw flames, which began to burn up the carpet. He also told police that Slavan had threatened to burn the house down around him a week prior.

Detectives found a gas can in the breezeway between the downstairs apartment and the garage. While photographing the doorframe from the breezeway to Slavan’s apartment, a detective located a lighter with a blue handle on the ledge just inside the doorway.

Slavan was later arrested in the 1100 block of Second Avenue Northwest. He stated he got home that afternoon and observed two people leaving his property, then went into his house and laid down for a minute before going to his friend’s house, where he was arrested.

He denied knocking on the tenant’s door, but told police he had been drinking all day.

The State Fire Marshal was called to the scene to collect samples for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab.

A review of Slavan’s criminal history shows prior convictions for domestic assault and knowingly violating predatory offender registration requirements.

He will be sentenced on June 19.