DARKE COUNTY — Dennis Yohey, 54, of Greenville, stood trial on charges of aggravated arson, a first-degree felony, in Darke County Common Pleas Court this week. Judge Jonathan P. Hein presided.
The charges stem from an incident in August of this year in which Yohey is alleged to have set a porch and assorted lawn furniture belonging to a former live-in girlfriend on fire. The fire took place at the Sherwood Forest mobile home park in Greenville.
Yohey entered guilty pleas to one count of resisting arrest, a first-degree misdemeanor; one count of vandalism, a fifth-degree felony; and two counts each of criminal damaging and telecommunications harassment, both misdemeanors, before proceeding to trial.
The defendant admitted to throwing a brick through his former girlfriend’s window as well as spray-painting her home with crude slogans, slashing her tires and making harassing statements to her on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the alleged arson.
Darke County Assistant District Attorney James Bennett called three Darke County Sheriff’s deputies to the stand who had responded to the fire and vandalism scenes. He also presented video evidence, captured by surveillance cameras belonging to a neighbor, that showed an indistinct figure, identified by the victim, Tanya Penny, as Yohey, walking around the back of Penny’s trailer, allegedly near the time of both incidents.
“He lived with me. I recognize his face, his clothing, his posture,” Penny said. “It’s him. I’m 100 percent certain.”
Defense attorney Randall Braeden questioned the validity of the video evidence, saying it was not possible to identify Yohey or his clothing based on the quality of the images. He also pointed out that one video was missing a time and date stamp while the time and date recorded on the other was incorrect, making it difficult to determine exactly when the videos were taken.
Bennett then called a former neighbor of Yohey, a confidential informant, to the stand, who claimed to believe Yohey set the fire because a lawn ornament belonging to Yohey was moved from Penny’s lawn to his own the night of the fire. The informant helped catch Yohey by setting up a phony drug buy.
Greenville Fire Department Assistant Chief Shannon D. Fritz next took the stand and said based on his experience as an arson investigator that the Sherwood Forest fire was most likely deliberately set. Fritz, an 18-year veteran of the Greenville Fire Department, began training as an arson investigator in 2013.
Finally, Bennet called Darke County Sheriff’s Detective Rachael Prickett. A nearly two-hour-long video of Prickett’s interrogation of Yohey was played in the courtroom, in which Yohey expressed hatred for Penny and, though initially denying the vandalism charges, eventually confessed. He continued to deny setting the fires, however.
Defense and prosecution rested on Wednesday, both waiving the right to make closing statements. Judge Hein is slated to announce his verdict on the case at 3:30 p.m. Thursday.