February 20, 2013
HAZARD – A Vicco man who faced a maximum of 15 years in prison on multiple counts of felony wanton endangerment was convicted instead on a single misdemeanor charge this week.
Johnny Williams, 48, was arrested in June 2012 after he poured gasoline over his head and attempted to light himself on fire with a lit cigarette as three Perry County deputies stood nearby. He was unsuccessful in igniting the gasoline vapors, but was quickly subdued by police.
Williams was later indicted on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, a Class D felony that carries a maximum of five years in prison.
Williams’ trial began in Perry Circuit Court on Monday and ended Tuesday afternoon with closing arguments. Defense attorney Gerald Teaster argued the prosecution had no case against his client, because in order for there to be a conviction on wanton endangerment, a substantial risk of serious injury would have had to be present at the scene. An expert witness for the defense testified during the trial that lighting gasoline with a lit cigarette is not possible, Teaster noted, and therefore no risk of serious injury existed.
“It is scientifically impossible under the facts of this case for there to have been a fire,” Teaster said. “And with no fire, there is no substantial risk of death or physical injury. It’s as simple as that.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Mullins countered that the physical properties of gasoline would have indeed made it possible for the gasoline vapor to have ignited by a smoldering cigarette. It was clear by his actions, and that he specifically asked for Chief Deputy Tony Eversole to arrive on the scene before he doused himself with gasoline, that Williams had intended to cause someone injury, Mullins added.
“He intended on burning something or someone on this day in question,” Mullins said.
The jury considered a total of three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment against Williams, finding him not guilty on the first two counts and guilty of an amended charge of second-degree wanton endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor. The jury recommended a sentence of six months to serve.
Williams had been lodged at the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard since his initial arrest more than six months ago, though he was expected to be released this week.