Man pleads guilty to three counts of arson, gets suspended sentence and probation term

Christopher Thorne

Christopher Patrick Thorne, 32, pleaded guilty to three counts of arson Nov. 8 before Circuit Judge Craig Carter. He was sentenced to seven years in the Missouri Department of Corrections on each count, but execution of the sentences was suspended. He is also on supervised probation. Thorne was to be released from custody Nov. 9 into the care of Victory Mission, a shelter for the homeless. 

Thorne’s arrest in the case came after four separate fires reportedly burned a home, storage building, outhouse and barn at John Hotelling’s property on County Road 122 in Wasola. Thorne reportedly lived on the property with the Hotelling family.

According to a probable cause statement filed by John W. Matney, an investigator with the Missouri Fire Marshal’s Office, the case was first investigated on Jan. 23, 2016, when Matney was called to the scene of a fire that had totally consumed a barn on the Hotelling property. Matney reportedly determined that there were no utilities inside the structure, ruling out an electrical or other utility-related start for the fire. Further investigation revealed no additional accidental cause for the fire, the statement says. Matney was informed that an outhouse had burned a few weeks before the barn fire, but it had been unreported.

On Feb. 27, 2016, Matney returned to the Hotelling property to investigate a storage building that had burned to the ground. The structure had no utilities, and Matney found no other accidental cause.

Then another fire occurred on the site. On March 16, 2016, emergency crews with Wasola, Gainesville, Brixey/Rockbridge, Caney Mountain and Squires volunteer fire departments responded to a house fire on the Hotelling property. Matney responded again to the site and determined that the blaze had originated in the upper level of the house, which was badly damaged by the fire. It was ruled as a criminal investigation with the cause undetermined at the time.

The fire rekindled later that night, completely destroying the house and other structures on the property.

During Matney’s follow-up investigation, Thorne was named as a suspect after it was determined that he was at the scene of each fire. On March 17, 2016, Matney spoke with John Hotelling, who told Matney that he believed Thorne had caused the fires because he was at each building just minutes before every fire was noticed. Thorne had reportedly been living at the Hotelling property.

The next day, March 18, 2016, Matney and Ozark County Deputy Winston Collins spoke with Thorne at the Ozark County Sheriff’s Office. Hotelling reportedly transported Thorne to the interview.

Thorne originally denied any knowledge of how the fires started, the statement says, and told the officers that he suspected a family member had started the fires or had someone start them because the family member is upset with him for leaving the family member and living with the Hotelling family. Thorne changed his story shortly into the interview and reportedly told the officers he didn’t remember starting the fires, but he might have.

A short while later, Thorne allegedly admitted that he started the fire in the outhouse by igniting some paper with a lighter. He said he also started the fire in the upper level of the home when he tried to light a cigarette with a match. Thorne reportedly said he ended up not lighting the cigarette and thought he blew out the match, but he threw it on the floor and a lot of paper items were lying on the floor that could have caught fire from a hot match. He reportedly indicated he was sorry for what he had done. Matney wrote in the report that Thorne used body language that caused him to believe he was not being entirely truthful.

During the discussion, Thorne reportedly told Matney he didn’t know why he started the fires, but he feels that he might need medication. He said he was not currently on medication for mental illness. He reportedly said he’s under a lot of stress and that could have been the reason he started the fires. 

Ozark County Times

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