No verdict yet in arson trial

Jury deliberates four hours before adjourning; decision possible Friday

WOODSTOCK – After four hours of deliberation, the jury could not reach a verdict in the trial of an Elmhurst man accused of burning a home, but the wrong home, as revenge for stolen drugs.

Joseph O. Ziegler, 24, will have to wait until Friday to see if he will be found guilty of aggravated arson, a felony that could land him up to 30 years in prison.  

Both the defense and prosecution gave impassioned closing arguments Thursday as they laid out their final points to the jury. The jury was sent to deliberate at 3:50 p.m. and was sent home shortly after 8 p.m.

Defense Attorney Edward Edens argued that there isn’t fingerprint evidence, traces of accelerant on Ziegler’s clothes or an eyewitness to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ziegler was guilty.

Assistant State’s Attorney David Johnston asked the jury to not take their “eye off the ball” of what evidence was presented, as the prosecution pointed to multiple witnesses who testified that Ziegler had a verbal altercation with Nick Pennington the night before the fire. After the argument, one witness, Devon Weber, said Ziegler told him he was 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.

The prosecution has argued the fire was the end result of an Aug. 8, 2012, argument between Ziegler and Pennington, who lived at 5107 Westwood Drive in Pistakee Highlands. Ziegler believed Pennington stole his drugs, and vowing revenge, Ziegler attempted 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.

Aitken’s two vehicles were destroyed and her home was left uninhabitable, but she was not injured in the blaze.

Two fire experts testified they could not identify the exact cause of the fire, other than it was started intentionally in a GMC SUV, and it 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.

Edens claimed that it was Wilkinson who stole Ziegler’s drugs, and 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.

A GPS navigation device was also found in Ziegler’s pocket when he was arrested around 6:30 that morning. Aitken testified the GPS belonged to her and was in her GMC Envoy before the car was set on fire.

Edens argued the GPS was stolen by Wilkinson and given to Ziegler as repayment for the drugs.

The trial will resume Friday morning.

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