Castle trial gets under way

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The trial of former Shake Shoppe owner Garry Castle began Tuesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court and will resume today.

Castle, 49,

is charged with aggravated arson, a first-degree felony punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $20,000, in connection with the March 28, 2002 fire that gutted his 2424 S. Third Street business.

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Judge Fred W. Crow, of Meigs County, is hearing the case. He presided over the jury selection Tuesday and said that the trial may last two to four days, possibly longer.

"The service you are to participate in is the single most important civic duty you have, short of the election," Crow said to the jurors. "I want each of you to look deep into yourself."

Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney J.B. Collier Jr. presented his case Tuesday by calling Ironton Fire Chief Tom Runyon, Richard Mountain of Scherer Mountain Insurance, State Fire Marshal Bob Lawless and two members of the Ironton Fire Department.

Collier said in the past that the decision to seek the aggravated arson charge was based on the fact the fire was premeditated, deliberately set and posed a serious risk to the lives of the firefighters.

Castle's defense attorney Robert Toy, of Athens, cross-examined the witnesses and will present his case Wednesday. Toy asked Crow to dismiss the aggravated arson charge but the motion was denied.

The trial was to continue at 9 a.m. today in the Common Pleas Courtroom on the third floor of the Lawrence County Courthouse annex. The jury may rule on the case today, Collier said.

In August, D.L. McWhorter, Castle's former attorney, asked the Ohio Supreme Court to appoint a special judge because both local Common Pleas judges know the Ironton businessman.

After originally denying he started the blaze,

Castle admitted to the act in June when investigators found empty gasoline containers.

He said he was not sure why he had set the fire, except he had been contending with vandalism and threatening calls.