Accused Wis. Arsonist Found Not Mentally Responsible

January 30, 2008

A man who admitted setting fires that caused an estimated $500,000 damage has been found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect after a defense expert said he suffered from pyromania.

Bayfield County Circuit Judge John Anderson found that Hendrik-Jan “Hans” Veenendaal, 30, of Washburn, was not mentally responsible for the crimes.

The ruling came in a second phase of Veenendaal’s trial after the judge accepted a no contest plea by the defendant on three arson counts. As part of a plea agreement, 16 arson counts were dismissed but read into the record.

The fires were set in 2005 and 2006 and damaged hay bales, cars, boats, trucks, vacant houses and other structures.

In the sanity phase of the trial Friday, the prosecution called witnesses who said the defendant knew what he was doing was wrong and could have controlled his desire to start the fires.

But the judge said the facts of the case indicated otherwise, including the fact that so many fires were involved.

“Only a fool would say he didn’t have an interest in fire. This isn’t even close. He burned half the county,” Anderson said.

The judge revoked Veenendaal’s bond, put him in custody of the state Department of Health and Human Services, and scheduled a hearing Feb. 1 on his commitment to a state mental hospital.

He is being housed at Bayfield County Jail until that hearing.

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