WOODSTOCK – Lawyers outlined their arguments and questioned witnesses Tuesday in the case of a man charged with torching the wrong house after a drug deal went bad.
Prosecutors argued that on Aug. 9, 2012, Joseph O. Ziegler, 24, set fire to a GMC Envoy in the driveway of a home in Pistakee Highlands. The fire extended to another vehicle and eventually engulfed a home at 5113 Westwood Drive.
Ziegler set the fire to get revenge on Nick Pennington, who Ziegler believed stole drugs from him the previous night, Assistant State’s Attorney David Johnston said.
But Ziegler missed his target, Johnston said, and instead burned the home of Roseanne Aitken, who lived two doors down from Pennington and was asleep in the residence. She escaped without injury.
Defense attorney Edward Edens conceded there was an argument between Ziegler and Pennington, but said his client was not involved in the fire that left Aitken’s home uninhabitable. Edens told the jury that Ziegler’s fingerprints were not found at the scene, and no accelerants were found on his clothes.
A fire expert testified Tuesday that accelerants likely were used to start the fire. A ruptured and burned propane tank was found roughly 125 feet from the fire.
The expert, Deputy Dan Danczyk of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, conducted the initial fire investigation and told the court that the fire did not start accidentally. Danczyk, who arrested Ziegler at the scene, also found a GPS navigation device in Ziegler’s pocket that was from Aitken’s GMC Envoy. Aitken testified Tuesday that it was her GPS.
Danczyk also testified that when Ziegler was arrested, he was “dripping wet” as if he had “jumped in a pool.”
Among those who also testified Tuesday were Devon Weber and Dakota Wilkinson, who were both with Ziegler on the night of the fire. Both testified that Ziegler got angry when he suspected Pennington of stealing his drugs, which witnesses described as ecstasy.
After a verbal altercation between Ziegler and Pennington, Ziegler, Weber and Wilkinson went to Wilkinson’s house, where Ziegler “looked for a beer bottle to make a bomb,” Weber said, but he was not successful.
Later in the night, Ziegler left the house and the other two went searching for him. Wilkinson said he saw Ziegler walking on Pistakee Drive with a propane tank in his hand. Wilkinson told Ziegler to wait while he went to get Weber, but when they returned, Ziegler was gone.
None of the witnesses who testified Tuesday saw Ziegler commit a crime.
Court went to recess for the day before Edens was able to cross-examine Wilkinson. The trial will resume Wednesday morning.