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Library arsonist sentenced to prison term

Annie Zelm • Jun 29, 2011 at 11:03 PM

(UPDATED WITH FULL STORY AND VIDEO) A Norwalk man said he heard voices that compelled him to start a fire in a library closet, but he said he closed the door to make sure it didn't spread.

Although Coy R. Bowen, 28, was found capable of distinguishing right from wrong and couldn't plead insanity, he's still a paranoid schizophrenic who needs treatment, not jail time, his attorney argued.

But his actions could have caused serious harm, the prosecutor and judge said.

Huron County Common Pleas Judge James Conway sentenced Bowen to a four-year prison term for attempted aggravated arson, citing Bowen's previous criminal history and the need to protect the public from him.

Bowen admitted he used a cigarette lighter to start a small fire inside a storage closet at the Norwalk Library in February.

The fire damaged a few reams of paper and caused less than $200 in damage, according to police, but it prompted everyone to evacuate.

Huron County assistant prosecutor Daivia Kasper noted it could have quickly spread, putting people at risk.

She also pointed out that Bowen has an extensive criminal history as a juvenile and as an adult, including a 2004 conviction for aggravated arson after he set fire to a shopping plaza in Norwalk.

Kasper urged the judge to sentence him to prison for the library fire, a third-degree felony punishable by one to five years.

Bowen's attorney, David Longo, reminded the judge of Bowen's various mental illnesses, including a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia that causes hallucinations.

Longo said Bowen appeared to have stopped taking his medication when he started the fire and clearly couldn't control his impulses.

He should have been able to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, Longo asserted, but changes in the law have made it more difficult for someone with mental illness to meet the legal requirements of insanity.

Bowen would be better served in a facility for the mentally ill, he said, but the court lacks that option because there are no such facilities in the area.

"I would ask the court to at least temper justice with mercy," Longo said.

Bowen also addressed the judge, saying the mental health treatment he previously had in prison was inadequate.

Conway requested that Bowen receive treatment while serving his sentence, noting that he may be eligible for early release depending on the circumstances. He also ordered him to pay $179.79 to the library to cover the clean-up costs.

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