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Crime & Courts

Arson trial nearing finish; closing arguments likely Thursday

Defense request to throw out case denied; closing arguments likely Thursday

WOODSTOCK – Closing arguments are expected Thursday in the arson trial of an Elmhurst man accused of burning a home, albeit the wrong home, as revenge over stolen drugs.

On Wednesday, prosecutors called two more neighbors to testify about what they saw the morning of Aug. 9, 2012, when a Pistakee Highlands home and two vehicles in the driveway were burned. One neighbor said she saw defendant Joseph Ziegler jumping her fence sometime in the morning after firefighters arrived. Another neighbor said a propane tank was stolen from his porch that morning.

The prosecution rested its case Wednesday morning, and at that time defense attorney Edward Edens asked McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather to throw it out because he said the prosecution hadn’t proved its case.

Prather denied the request, and the defense called its first witness, a neighbor who lives across the street from where the fire occurred. He testified that early in the morning of Aug. 9 he heard kids skateboarding and talking by his house, and later heard a loud horn sound and a woman screaming.

The defense also called two forensic scientists to testify Wednesday. One, a fingerprint expert, testified that she did not find any prints on a Heineken beer bottle, which was the lone object from the scene sent for fingerprint testing. The second forensic scientist, an expert on accelerants, testified that he did not find any trace of accelerants on Ziegler’s clothes.

Two fire experts earlier in the trial testified that accelerants were likely used in the blaze. A burned and ruptured propane tank also was found roughly 125 feet from the fire. No fire experts have been able to definitively determine the cause of the fire, other than it was started intentionally.

The prosecution has argued that on Aug. 8, 2012, Ziegler was driven from Elmhurst to McHenry County with the intent to sell drugs, which witnesses described as synthetic Ecstasy. After meeting with some acquaintances in Johnsburg, Ziegler discovered that the drugs he brought were missing.

An argument ensued between Ziegler and Nick Pennington, who lives at 5107 Westwood Drive. Ziegler believed Pennington stole his drugs, and vowing revenge, Ziegler tried to burn Pennington’s home. But Ziegler missed his target, the prosecution claimed, and instead he torched Roseanne Aitken’s home at 5113 Westwood Drive.

A GPS navigation device also was found in Ziegler’s pocket at the time of his arrest, which Aitken testified was in her GMC Envoy before it was set on fire.

The defense is trying to show that there were no witnesses to the actual crime and that there is a lack of evidence to convict Ziegler of arson.

On Thursday, the defense plans to call Dakota Wilkinson, who previously took the stand and stated that Ziegler talked about causing damage to Pennington’s home the night before the incident. He also said he saw Ziegler in the early morning hours of Aug. 9 with a propane tank in his hand.

Ziegler, who is not expected to testify in the trial, could be sentenced to between six and 30 years in prison for aggravated arson, his most serious charge.

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