CLEARFIELD — Steven Michael Rode, 24, of Reynoldsville, who is accused of setting four fires at an assisted living facility in Sandy Township was found guilty of all charges by a jury yesterday at the Clearfield County Courthouse.
The jury took two hours and 25 minutes to reach a verdict.
Rode was found guilty of four counts each of arson-danger of death or bodily injury; arson-inhabited building or structure; aggravated arson, all of which are felonies of the first degree; risking catastrophe, a felony of the third degree and four counts of recklessly endangering another person, which are misdemeanors of the second degree.
After the verdict was read, Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. asked Judge Paul Cherry to reset Rode’s bail to an appropriate amount.
Shaw said Rode was free on $25,000 unsecured bail. Shaw argued that now that Rode has been convicted, he is facing substantial jail time.
“He now has a significant motive not to appear,” Shaw said.
Shaw said many of the arson counts will merge for sentencing purposes, but Rode is looking at a minimum of four separate first-degree felony arson counts that could run consecutive to each other.
Rode’s attorney, Robbie Taylor of Brookville, argued that Rode has appeared at all his hearings so far, and has family in the area.
“He’s not going anywhere, your Honor,” Cherry said.
Cherry said there is some confusion on whether Rode’s family posted bail and said until this is cleared up, bail is set at $25,000 monetary and Rode was taken to the Clearfield County Jail.
“We are very satisfied with the jury’s verdict,” Shaw said to the media in a press conference after the trial.
He also praised the work of State Police and the Sandy Township Police who conducted the investigation, and the firefighters for discovering that the fires were suspicious and alerting the police.
Shaw said because the fires were set at a home occupied by mentally and physically handicapped individuals, it posed significant risk to their health and safety, and it was important that these crimes didn’t go unnoticed.
He said the fires could have been catastrophic, especially the fire in the dryer.
“Absolutely, people could have died,” Shaw said.
Shaw said Rode is looking at substantial jail time, but said it would be up to Judge Cherry to determine how much time he would serve.
According to testimony at trial, Rode was employed by Fayette Resources of DuBois as a counselor at a residential assisted living facility on Arminta Street in Sandy Township when he set the facility on fire on four occasions — twice on Jan. 14, 2018 and twice on Jan. 21.
The residence was home to four men with intellectual and physical disabilities.
According to testimony at trial, on the night of Jan. 14, Rode set some lint on fire behind the dryer in the home’s laundry room. He and a co-worker, Owen Samuels used water to put the fire out. Later that evening, Rode set a bug glue trap on fire next to the dryer. The fire was extinguished by Samuels and Rode using a fire extinguisher; firefighters responded to the scene as well.
On Jan. 21, Rode used some rubbing alcohol and a lighter to light to some clothes on fire inside of the dryer and turned the dryer on.
Again, Samuels and Rode discovered the fire and Rode put the fire out with a fire extinguisher, and Samuels removed the burnt clothes from the dryer and placed them on the floor to make sure the fire was out.
The home was evacuated, but Rode returned to the home with one of the residents to obtain personal items.
Samuels then returned to the home to make one last check and found the smoke alarms going off and discovered the clothes were burning — and had been moved from their original location on the floor and were now against the wall.
Sandy Township and DuBois City fire departments responded to the scene.
Chief William Beers of the West Sandy Fire Company testified that the fires looked suspicious and they contacted the Sandy Township Police and the State Police fire marshal to investigate.
Rode initially denied setting the fires, but eventually confessed to the crimes and signed a written statement saying he set the fires because he felt under-appreciated at work and enjoyed the praise he received from management for his actions in protecting the residents.
Yesterday, Rode took the stand in his own defense and claimed the police coerced him into giving the confession. He said fire marshal Corp. Greg Agosti of the state police had threatened him that if he didn’t confess, he wouldn’t see his newborn daughter again until she was 18.
Agosti denied the allegations during rebuttal, and Officer Ken Kiehlmeier of the Sandy Township Police testified on he was present when Agosti questioned Rode. He said Agosti did not pressure, threaten or coerce Rode, and said Rode gave the confession willingly.