US teen found guilty of killing mom, sister in fire

2016-09-01 08:21
Sam Vonachen stands next to his defence attorney Lynn Burke at the Reno County courthouse in Hutchinson, Kansas. (Sandra J. Milburn/The Hutchinson News via AP)

Sam Vonachen stands next to his defence attorney Lynn Burke at the Reno County courthouse in Hutchinson, Kansas. (Sandra J. Milburn/The Hutchinson News via AP)

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Hutchinson - A Kansas jury on Wednesday found a 17-year-old Hutchinson boy guilty of killing his mother and sister in a fire at his home three years ago.

Sam Vonachen was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count each of attempted murder and aggravated arson for the Septemer 26, 2013, fire that killed Karla Jo Vonachen, 47, and Audrey Vonachen, 11.

During closing arguments, prosecutors said Vonachen, who was 14 at the time of the fire, confessed to the crimes and wanted people to die, the Hutchinson News reported.

"Police confront him and he, finally, proud of what he did, told police what he did," Stephen Maxwell, assistant Reno County prosecutor, told the jury. "Remember? 'I burned that house. I wanted people to die.' That shows exactly what his intent was."

'Mentally unstable'

Vonachen's attorney argued that the boy was suffering from a mental defect at the time of the fire and wasn't responsible for his actions. Mental health experts brought in during the eight-day trial offered sharply contrasting opinions on that issue.

Vonachen waited until his mother and sister went to bed before taking his guitar, baby blanket and lanyard to the porch, Maxwell said. He then got a can of gasoline from the garage and poured it around the front of the home's stairs to cut off any possible escape route from the second floor.

"Then he goes out the front door, takes a little black lighter and a napkin and lights it," Maxwell said. "He stands there and he lights the fire and then he walks away with his items."

Police said Vonachen then called 911, gave a false name and reported the fire. He showed up at his home an hour and 40 minutes later and told police he didn't know what happened, Maxwell said.

The boy's father, Steven Vonachen, heard a fire alarm and was able to escape.

Vonachen's attorney, public defender John Henderson, tried to convince jurors that the boy was mentally unstable at the time of the crimes. The attorney argued that Vonachen should be found not guilty by reason of a mental defect.

"I ask you, I implore you to find Sam not guilty and to send him to a mental hospital, a mental hospital where he'll receive treatment, a mental hospital where they will finally determine what happened to Sam's psyche," Henderson told jurors.

Vonachen is expected back in court for sentencing September 30

Read more on:    us  |  fires

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