A former inmate at Northpoint Training Center who was scheduled to go to trial Monday on arson and rioting charges pleaded guilty Thursday in Boyle Circuit Court.
In a deal with prosecutors, Aaron Lee Fisk pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of third-degree arson and rioting for his role in the 2009 conflagration in exchange for a recommended sentence of seven years in prison. Judge Darren Peckler will formally sentence Fisk on Aug. 7.
Fisk was scheduled in court for hearing in which his attorney hoped to suppress testimony by a Northpoint officer who would identify his client from being introduced during the trial. But Fisk decided to accept the offer from Commonwealth’s Attorney Richie Bottoms before the hearing took place.
Fisk becomes the second of five Northpoint inmates indicted for arson and rioting to be found guilty. Three others are awaiting trial.
Last year, Newell Stacy went to trial in Boyle Circuit Court, where a jury convicted him of rioting but could not reach a verdict on the arson charge. Stacy was sentenced to 20 years on the rioting charge after also being convicted of being a persistent felony offender whose rap sheet included convictions for murder and child molestation.
Had he gone to trial and been convicted of second-degree arson and rioting, Fisk, who was serving time at Northpoint for burglary and assault, could have faced a sentence of at least 20 years if he were also tagged with being a persistent felony offender. The PFO charge was dropped as part of the plea bargain.
Under questioning from Peckler, Fisk said he and his family decided the plea offer was better than taking a chance with a jury and possibly a much longer prison sentence.
“It’s better than the other possibilities if I go to trial,” Fisk told the judge.
Ted Shouse, Fisk’s attorney, said the stiff sentence Stacy received last year did not enter in to his client’s thinking in accepting the deal Thursday rather than going to trial on Monday.
“It’s a completely different kind of case with different evidence,” Shouse said, adding that Bottoms’ offer of seven years was too good to pass up when Fisk could have been sentenced to life had he been convicted.
Bottoms said afterward that he was happy to get a guilty plea on the arson charge after the jury in the Stacy case hung on that charge during his trial. Prison officials signed off on Fisk’s deal as “appropriate and satisfactory” under the circumstances of the case, Bottoms said.
Had the case gone to trial, Bottoms was prepared to call three Northpoint officers who would have testified they saw Fisk throw burning objects into the prison’s multipurpose building on the night of the riot.
That building was one of six destroyed during the riot, which also rendered five dorms on the campus unusable.
Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said Thursday that rebuilding of the prison is nearly complete and inmates are being returned to the facility on Burgin Road from other institutions on a regular basis. On Thursday, Northpoint’s inmate population was 985, nearing its capacity of 1,225 inmates, Lamb said.
The final cost of rebuilding the prison is $18.8 million, she said.