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Emily Welker, Published December 18 2013

Moorhead man pleads guilty in arson fire at former Coach's Sports Pub

MOORHEAD – A Moorhead man has pleaded guilty to arson in a fire last July at the former Coach’s Sports Pub in downtown Moorhead.

Jeffrey Joseph Little, 29, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Clay County District Court to one count of felony second-degree arson. An additional charge of first-degree arson, also a felony, is set to be dismissed at his sentencing.

Little agreed with a Clay County prosecutor that he was extremely intoxicated on the early morning of July 8 after having spent the preceding evening at bars.

He said he recalled starting the fire after lighting a match to see by while he was rummaging around the unused building, then dropping the match.

“It must have stayed lit,” he said. “I didn’t mean to start no fire, but it happened.”

Clay County prosecutor Heidi Davies told the court at the plea hearing that a bystander heard Little say that night after he left the former bar that he set the place on fire.

Davies said restitution for the damage to the bar could be more than $100,000.

Joe Parise, Little’s defense attorney, said just because Little accepted responsibility for the arson doesn’t mean he should be forced to pay what it would cost to restore Coach’s to its condition before it closed in 2005.

Parise said to do so would be a case of “unjust enrichment” at Little’s expense.

Coach’s closed after the city decided not to renew its liquor license. It had been the location of numerous police calls, including fights.

In 2004, a college student died after consuming at least 15 drinks while celebrating his 21st birthday at the bar.

The bar’s value dropped from $356,000 to $92,000 in October 2012.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541