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Kan. man found guilty of arson after apartment fire

Responders found roughly a dozen chemicals in Chase Coble's apartment

By Michael Stavola
The Hutchinson News

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Jurors took roughly six hours to reach a guilty verdict on Thursday for the 23-year-old who started a fire while mixing chemicals in his Plaza Towers apartment last summer.

Chase Lee Coble was found guilty of aggravated arson; a severity level three person felony that carries a minimum sentence of roughly 4 1/2 years. Sentencing was set for July 28.

Chase Coble (Photo/Reno County Sheriff's Office)
Chase Coble (Photo/Reno County Sheriff's Office)

"At the very least, the community is safe for a little while," Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder said.

Public Defender Lois Lynn said she was disappointed with the decision.

The jury found Coble not guilty of counts two and three of aggravated arson. A fourth and fifth count, both of criminal use of explosives, was dropped by either the state or Judge Trish Rose, who found the charge not applicable since Coble was missing one chemical for making black powder and one chemical for making another volatile substance known as TATP.

Coble, a chemistry enthusiast, testified he has taken a few college-level courses chemistry courses, and was doing an experiment on June 21, 2016, in his 12th floor apartment when the fire flared and caused the sprinkler system to go off.

Emergency responders found roughly a dozen chemicals in the apartment and approximately 15 computers. In the three-day trial, the prosecution called an ATF agent, fire specialist with the Kansas Fire Marshal's Office, neighbor on the 11th floor, firefighter, Hutchinson Police Department officers and the owner of the apartment building.

The defense's only witness was Coble, who took the stand Wednesday afternoon and explained the use for the chemicals and science experiments was to further his knowledge in the field and create a plastic with commercial application for computers.

On Thursday, the jury heard closing arguments before going into a conference room for deliberation around 9:30 a.m.

"The smartest people in the world don't always have the most common sense," Schroeder said during his closing arguments. "Stupidity is not a shield for accountability."

Lynn told jurors the state did not establish Coble knowingly put other lives in danger and his interest in infamous bombers, which he discussed during an interrogation, does not make him guilty.

"I read Helter Skelter," Lynn said, adding her interest in Charles Manson doesn't have nefarious implications.

The jury's decision came at about 3:50 p.m.

Copyright 2017 The Hutchinson News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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