WOODSTOCK – An admitted drug dealer convicted of torching the wrong house in retaliation for stolen drugs was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison.
A jury in May found 24-year-old Joseph Ziegler guilty on multiple arson charges, the most serious of which was punishable by between six and 30 years in prison.
Before she handed down the sentence, McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather listened to a police interview with the Elmhurst man during which he admitted selling drugs to the high school students whom he believed stole ecstasy and methadone from him.
“It’s hard to imagine something more repulsive, more cowardly, more pathetic than that, but Mr. Ziegler took it a step further,” Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Zalud said.
Ziegler believed Nick Pennington had stolen his drugs, and with that in mind he intended to set fire to Pennington’s Pistakee Highlands home. But he missed his target, instead torching the home of Roseanne Aitken, who lives a few doors away from Pennington.
The blaze destroyed two cars in her driveway and eventually spread to the home, causing significant damage. No one was injured.
“We lost so much inside the house that to this day, we still find things we miss,” Aitken said at the sentencing hearing Wednesday.
The judge appeared sympathetic to Aitken, whom she called an innocent victim.
“I can’t imagine being … awoke in the middle of the night to watch everything she loved and owned go up in smoke,” Prather said.
Ziegler’s defense attorneys have argued the state presented no evidence tying him to the crime. Assistant Public Defender Angelo Mourelatos said Ziegler suffers from mental illness, and had been hospitalized multiple times for it. He would benefit from continued mental health treatment, Mourelatos said.
“He should not be disallowed the opportunity to correct the mistakes he made in the past,” he said.
His May trial was the second time Ziegler faced a jury for the Aug. 9, 2012, blaze. Prather declared a mistrial in the first after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision. That jury convicted him of burglary for having a GPS device in his pocket when he was arrested.
Ziegler maintains his innocence. He was appointed an appellate public defender to continue representing him.
He must serve 85 percent of his 12-year sentence, or 10 years.