Man sentenced to 13 years for attempted aggravated arson

Man sentenced to 13 years for attempted aggravated arson

URBANA — An Urbana man who tried to set fire to a home almost a year ago fell to the courtroom floor wailing after being sentenced to prison.

Judge Heidi Ladd on Wednesday sentenced Denzel Smith, 21, of the 1300 block of North Lincoln Avenue to 13 years in prison for attempted aggravated arson. He's eligible for day-for-day good time.

Smith pleaded guilty in late March to the charge, which stemmed from a May 26, 2013, incident at a single-story home at 916 W. Eads St., U. Four people were inside when the fire was set but it didn't take off strongly enough to seriously damage the house.

Assistant State's Attorney Scott Bennett said Smith returned home from work about 10:30 p.m. on May 25 to find the door to his room kicked in and his laptop computer stolen.

Smith's roommate told police that an irate Smith fixated on a man who lived a few doors down from the Eads Street address, believing he was responsible, and even convinced the roommate to drive to that man's house to "scope it out."

Bennett said they drove to that block and saw the alleged thief's brother standing in the driveway of 916 W. Eads St. talking to another man. Bennett said that Smith incorrectly assumed that's where the thief lived. The prosecutor put into evidence photos of the two houses, showing how similar they looked.

Smith and his roommate then returned to their apartment, where Smith dropped off the roommate.

One of the men who had been outside in the driveway of 916 W. Eads St. about 2 a.m. reported to police seeing a small yellow car with tinted windows drive by, He recognized the occupant as Smith.

The roommate reported that Smith returned about an hour later, reeking of gasoline. Bennett said Smith told the roommate he "tried to burn a house down but that it didn't work." He even asked the roommate to help him research methods on the Internet for burning a home.

The next morning, the residents of 916 W. Eads St., including a 57-year-old woman, her mentally disabled 41-year-old son, and two grandsons under the age of 20, woke to a smell of something that had burned but couldn't locate anything.

They called the Urbana Fire Department and firefighters found a lighter on the rear side of the home and three burned spots on the vinyl siding where it appeared an accelerant had been used. The resident had gone to bed around 10:30 p.m. the night before and had not smelled anything burned at that time. She and the others were sleeping when the siding was melted.

Acting on information from the men who had been in the driveway, police found Smith in a yellow car with tinted windows, Bennett said. Officers noted the overwhelming odor of gasoline inside the car. They also found a gas can by the door of his apartment, Bennett said.

Smith had prior adjudications as a juvenile for unlawful use of weapon and residential burglary.

Bennett asked for the maximum 15 years in prison while Smith's attorney, Brendan Bukalski of Bloomington sought a sentence of probation, or in the alternative, boot camp.

In delivering her sentence, Ladd noted the premeditated nature of Smith's actions and his lack of remorse or rehabilitative potential.

After hearing that he received 13 years, Smith fell to the floor, crying so loudly that Ladd's recitation of his appellate rights could hardly be heard. Smith continued the wailing as court security officers carried him from the courtroom.

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