WOODSTOCK – After deliberating more than nine hours, a jury found Joseph Ziegler guilty of burglarizing a Pistakee Highlands home but could not reach a verdict on the fire that left the home uninhabitable.
The prosecution argued the fire was the end result of an Aug. 8, 2012, argument between Ziegler and Nick Pennington, who lived at 5107 Westwood Drive in Pistakee Highlands.
The burglary conviction carries a potential prison term of up to seven years, while the arson charges carry a minimum prison sentence of six to 30 years. Ziegler could be retried on the arson charges.
Prosecutors said Ziegler believed Pennington stole his drugs, and vowing revenge, Ziegler tried to burn Pennington’s home. But they said Ziegler missed his target and instead torched Roseanne Aitken’s home at 5113 Westwood Drive.
Defense attorney Edward Edens argued that there wasn’t fingerprint evidence, traces of accelerant on Ziegler’s clothes or an eyewitness to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ziegler was guilty.
Aitken’s two vehicles were destroyed and her home was left uninhabitable, but she was not injured in the blaze. Fire experts testified that they could not identify the exact cause of the fire, other than it was started intentionally in a GMC SUV and spread to another vehicle in the driveway and eventually up the side of the home. The experts also said that an accelerant, a propane tank and a wicking device in the gas tank neck were used.
The key piece of evidence for the prosecution was a GPS navigation device that arresting officers found in Ziegler’s pocket the morning of his arrest. Aitken testified that the GPS belonged to her and was inside her GMC Envoy before the vehicle was destroyed in the fire.
The prosecution presented multiple witnesses who testified that Ziegler had a verbal altercation with Pennington the night before the fire. After the argument, one witness – Devon Weber – said Ziegler told him he wanted to “blow up or set on fire” Pennington’s house.
A second witness, Dakota Wilkinson, testified that Ziegler was looking around his backyard for something to construct a bomb. Wilkinson also testified that he saw Ziegler later in the evening riding a bike with a propane tank in hand.
Pennington himself testified that he had an argument with Ziegler, during which Ziegler told him, “If I don’t find my drugs, I’m going to come to your house.”
Edens claimed that it was Wilkinson who stole Ziegler’s drugs, and said it was Wilkinson, or a combination of Wilkinson and Weber, who were responsible for the fire. Edens added that since the gas caps were never recovered from the vehicles that caught fire, the jury could not convict Ziegler.
Edens also argued that the GPS was given to Ziegler by Dakota Wilkinson as repayment for drugs.
A status hearing for a retrial has been scheduled for Wednesday.