A Sandusky man who claimed his innocence for the past two years got the justice he was looking for this week.
Stephen Irby, 52, was acquitted of arson charges after a two-day bench trial in Erie County Common Pleas Court.
“I was embarrassed. My family was embarrassed,” Irby told the Register on Wednesday.
Irby was charged with arson and insurance fraud after a fire destroyed his 2003 Cadillac on June 9, 2012. Police were called to the 1400 block of Clinton St., where they found the vehicle engulfed in flames.
Irby told police he was visiting a friend when he noticed two people standing next to the car. He yelled at them and they ran off, and he then realized the car was on fire. He suffered burns at the scene.
Police and firefighters found forensic evidence that indicated an accelerant had been used to start the fire.
“The state presented a strong case this was arson,” Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Tygh Tone said. “But it did not meet the burden of proof necessary to result in a conviction” Irby was taken to the hospital that evening for minor burns to his right arm. He said he suffered the burns when he got too close to the car, and the heat also singed his eyebrows.
Irby said he does not know who set the car on fire, but he expects he’ll be able to collect the insurance money for the vehicle, which was valued at about $9,000. He replaced the vehicle after it was destroyed, he said, with a nicer one, but it has been a difficult challenge fighting the insurance carrier and the charges.
“I should never have been charged with anything” he said.
Irby was convicted in 1998 of drug trafficking, according to court records. He also was convicted in 2003 of possession of crack cocaine and trafficking in crack cocaine. A similar felony case filed against him in 2009 was dismissed.