EFFINGHAM — A Casey man was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for setting fire to an Effingham garage.

Effingham County Judge Allan Lolie sentenced Kenny L. Cathey, 27, adding two years mandatory supervised release with credit for 214 days served in the Effingham County Jail.

Fines and fees were deemed uncollectable, except for $2,000 restitution to the victim, who was renting the garage to store items. The garage at 215 E. St. Louis Ave. in Effingham was owned by someone other than the renter, and both the garage and the renter’s belongings in the garage were damaged in the June 2019 incident.

In addition to the garage and renter’s belongings, siding on a nearby house owned by an elderly couple was melted.

The Effingham Fire Department was called to the residence on June 10, 2019, around 5:52 p.m. following numerous reports of an explosion in the garage at the residence and a person lying on the ground near the garage.

Effingham Police Chief Jason McFarland later confirmed the person lying on the ground was Cathey, who was arrested after being treated at the scene by Abbott EMS and taken to HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital.

Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler on Thursday called Effingham Police Department Narcotics Detective Andy Myers to the stand.

Myers testified “there wasn’t much left” of the garage, and the damage to the neighboring home was visible. He said he spoke with Cathey on two occasions the day of Cathey’s arrest. Cathey admitted to ingesting methamphetamine prior to the fire but did not recall being inside the garage, Myers said.

Myers said Cathey admitted in a second interview to taking the drug and also said he entered the garage without permission because he thought, in his drug-induced psychosis, he was running from the people who sold him the methamphetamine.

Myers said witnesses saw Cathey exit the garage shortly before the fire started.

Public Defender Scott Schmidt asked Myers if there were other entities that investigated the fire aside from the police detectives. Myers said the Effingham Fire Department also investigated.

Cathey’s sister, Stephanie Newton of Assumption, told the court her children love Cathey, and she would allow him to be around her kids. She asked the judge for a lesser punishment.

“I just want Kenny to have a second chance,” Newton said through tears. “I’m going through a divorce and I could really use his help.”

Schmidt argued his client was not extended-term eligible for sentencing. Extended-term eligible means a prison term may be lengthened beyond the normal statutory maximum for the crime of which the defendant has been found guilty. Normally, the sentencing for arson to property causing over $150 in damages is three to seven years.

Schmidt said a 2009 felony conviction in Cumberland County put Cathey past the 10-year limit on qualifying him as extended-term eligible. However, Kibler stated later that Cathey was in fact extended-term eligible because he had been resentenced to two years on probation following a petition to revoke in the Cumberland County case in August 2010, and Cathey’s most recent felony occurred in 2019.

Lolie agreed, determining Cathey was in fact extended-term eligible as established when the two sides presented their negotiated plea in November. As a part of the plea, because Cathey pleaded guilty to the lesser Class 2 felony charge, the state set a 10-year cap on Cathey’s sentencing and dismissed a Class 1 felony of residential arson.

Kibler argued in favor of a 10-year sentence. He said Cathey’s conduct caused serious threat or harm, especially to the elderly couple whose home was damaged.

Kibler added that Cathey has a criminal history, including a felony charge of burglary and of possession of a weapon by a felon. He said the 10-year sentence would deter others from committing the same crime, and the arson was also against property of people 65 years old or older, being the elderly couple next door to the garage.

The state’s attorney said Cathey should not be put on any type of community-based supervision because that punishment did not work in the Cumberland County case.

Schmidt argued while arson is a serious and dangerous offense, Cathey should get community-based supervision. He said such behavior was out of character for Cathey, and though taking drugs is no excuse for his behavior, Cathey was in an altered state of mind at the time of the incident. Schmidt also said because Cathey has been sober from meth for over 200 days since he’s been in custody, he is sincerely remorseful for his actions and would not squander a second chance.

Cathey offered an apology to the victim in the case.

“I just want to apologize to the victim. I wasn’t in the right character,” Cathey said. “I ask for mercy of the court today to prove I can be a normal person.”

Lolie found Cathey’s behavior at the time of the arson did in fact cause harm or danger to others, that he has a history of criminality and a sentence is needed to deter others. However, Lolie did not go in favor of the state’s factor of causing danger to those over 65 years old because the garage was the main structure damaged in the blaze.

“I do think a sentence is necessary to protect the public,” Lolie said.

Lolie advised that should Cathey have no behavioral problems while in IDOC custody, and with his time already served in the county jail, there is a possibility Cathey could be out of prison in just under three years.

Upon his release, Cathey is required to report to the circuit clerk’s office within 30 days to address restitution payments.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

Reporter

Kaitlin Cordes covers Effingham County, police and courts and sports features for the Effingham Daily News. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University. Cordes is a native of Effingham.

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