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Arson retrial starts for man accused of torching wrong target

Ziegler accused in 2012 house fire

WOODSTOCK – The retrial for an Elmhurst man accused of torching a house outside of Johnsburg over a drug debt, began Monday as attorneys waded through potential jurors.

Prosecutors have said 24-year-old Joseph O. Ziegler on Aug. 9, 2012, set fire to a home in Pistakee Highlands because the person he believed lived there stole drugs from him. But Ziegler missed his target, they said, instead setting fire to the house two doors away.

No one was injured in the fire, but the home was left uninhabitable and two vehicles were destroyed.

He’s charged with various arson-related felonies, for which he already was once tried. After nine hours of deliberations, a jury in November deadlocked and McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather declared a mistrial.

Jurors did, however, convict Ziegler of burglary.

Previous testimony revealed that a GPS navigation device belonging to the torched home’s owner was found in Ziegler’s pocket the morning of his arrest.

Witnesses at the first trial testified that the night before the fire, Ziegler had a verbal altercation with a man he believed stole drugs from him. After the argument, one witness said Ziegler wanted to “blow up or set on fire” the house.

Ziegler hired private counsel for his first trial, but that attorney withdrew for financial reasons. He is now represented by assistant public defenders.

The most serious charge against him carries a potential prison term of six to 30 years in prison.

On Monday, 12 jurors and two alternates were selected. Opening statements are set for the morning. The trial is expected to last at least three days.

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