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Dayton man found not guilty by reason of insanity in arson that killed mother

Published: Monday, October 21, 2019 @ 7:53 AM
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2019 @ 11:04 AM

Firefighters at the scene of a house fire on South Terry Street on Feb. 22, 2018. Julie Dennis, 50, died six days later from her injuries, and her 23-year-old son was charged with aggravated arson and murder.

A Dayton man accused of setting fire to a house leading to the death of his mother was found not guilty by reason of insanity. 

James Dennis, 25, was facing two counts of murder and three counts of aggravated arson. 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Dayton man pleads not guilty in arson death of mother, injury to brother

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James Dennis

A bench trial, or a trial by judge, started Monday morning. The verdict was announced about two hours later.

Dennis appeared by video conference as he is currently at Summit Behavioral Health.

Judge Barbara Gorman determined that he will remain at the mental health facility.

“The judge will maintain jurisdiction over him for the course of his life,” said Prosecutor Lynda Dodd. “So the rest of his life he will be in the mental health system. Every two years will undergo a process of reevaluating where he should be.”

Judge Barbara Gorman found James Dennis not guilty by reason of insanity in a house fire that killed his mother. STAFF PHOTO / CHUCK HAMLIN

She called the verdict a “reasonable result” and added that the people who worked with Dennis realized he was “significantly mentally ill.”

Dennis was accused of using a lighter to set a couch on fire at a house on South Terry Street on fire on Feb. 22, 2018 with his mother, Julie Dennis, and brother, Johnathan Dennis, still inside. 

When firefighters arrived, Johnathan had escaped the fire to the roof, but Julie was trapped in the burning house. James was already outside.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Bond set for family member jailed on arson charges in Dayton house fire

Julie died six days later from her injuries.

James Dennis admitted to fire investigators that he set the fire during an interview and mention a “red devil,” Dodd said.

“There were a lot of manifestations of mental illness that he endorsed, both to the investigator and to Dayton homicide [crews],” she said.

Pets, people rescued from Terry Street fire