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Conviction was bittersweet

Beaver attorney just glad no lives were lost in fires

BEAVER — Deputy County Attorney Leo Kanell won in court last week against an arsonist and burglar, but the victory was bittersweet.

Steve H. Thomas, 28, was convicted of arson and burglary after a two-day trial and could face a long prison sentence. Jurors concluded Thomas went on a burning spree last August that torched several haystacks worth thousands of dollars and also set fire to a mobile home.

Thomas faces a potential sentence of five years to life in prison for just one of the seven charges for which he was convicted.

"There's nothing to be happy about," Kanell said. "The farmers lost a substantial amount of hay, and in this serious drought time that was serious. There was a lot of risk, especially with fires in Beaver city. It could have gotten out of control and been more damaging — there could have been loss of life."

But Kanell also feels for the 28-year-old defendant who Kanell said had been in trouble before but seemed to have turned his life around.

"He's just a kid we've had in our system with misdemeanor charges in the past. He's been in trouble, drinking and fighting," Kanell said.

"This young man was making some steps to get his life in order. He was married and had children. This (crime spree) was a gigantic step backward for him. When all is said and done, everyone involved here did their jobs and the result is fair," Kanell said. "But there's nothing really to be happy about."

Thomas was convicted of first-degree felony aggravated arson and second-degree felony burglary in connection with the fire set in the mobile home.

He also was convicted of three counts of second-degree felony arson involving the destruction of three separate haystacks that had $15,000 worth of hay, one third-degree felony count of arson for burning a haystack that held about $5,000 worth of hay, and one count of third-degree attempted arson for setting fire to another haystack that didn't burn so much as the others.

First-degree felonies carry a potential sentence of five years to life in prison, second-degree felonies can bring 1-to-15 years and third-degree can net 0-to-5 years behind bars.

Kanell said he and others in law enforcement are grateful for the support they received from the public in this case.

"Two ladies from Ogden and Layton driving on I-15 were able to identify his car and him as he was coming into Beaver. They just called in later when they heard the news reports. They ended up helping us find the car, and their testimony was really important in the trial because they had no biases," Kanell said. "They were just doing their public service."

Fifth District Judge J. Philip Eves has ordered a presentence report for Thomas.