PORTLAND, Maine — A civilian shipyard worker to be sentenced Friday for setting fire to a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine is described in court documents as “a talented musician and artist” who once attended film school.
But Casey James Fury, 24, also experienced homelessness at a young age, has long been troubled by anxiety attacks and had “a history of being bullied at school and at work.”
Federal defender David Beneman, representing Fury, urged U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Zingal in a presentencing memorandum Monday to put Fury in prison for no more than 15 years and eight months. That is the minimum period agreed to by federal prosecutors in a November plea agreement reached with the former shipyard worker.
The May 23 blaze caused more than $450 million in damage to the USS Miami, a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack sub that was undergoing an overhaul at the shipyard. More than 100 firefighters from multiple states responded to the fire, and six people were injured in the incident, although nobody was killed.
Fury pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in November 2012 in exchange for a recommended prison sentence between 188 months and 235 months. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office are asking the court to sentence Fury to the longest prison term in that range — which works out to 19 years, seven months.
Fury faces a maximum possible sentence for the two counts of arson — for May 23 and June 16 fires at the Kittery-based shipyard — of life in prison plus 25 years, as well as restitution payments.
The fire on June 16, on the facility drydock near the burned submarine, was extinguished quickly.
The former Portsmouth Naval Shipyard worker may also be required by the court to pay restitution to the Navy and victims injured in the fire, but U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty acknowledged at the time of Fury’s plea that “there isn’t much hope of [Fury] completely — or even substantially — repaying [the more than $450 million].”
Delahanty has said Fury can withdraw his guilty plea if the court indicates it will issue a sentence greater than the prison term prosecutors promised to seek in exchange for the plea.
Fury, who was working as a painter and a sandblaster at the shipyard at the time, allegedly told investigators he set both fires because he wanted to leave work early to meet with his girlfriend.
In his presentencing memorandum, filed Monday, Beneman urges the court to be lenient, writing that Fury is remorseful and “was not intending to cause a major fire” when he used a cigarette lighter to ignite a pile of rags on a bed in a midlevel room in the submarine.
The public defender writes that his client’s severe anxiety and depression have made it difficult for him to cope with stress. Beneman wrote that Fury, a 2006 Portsmouth High School graduate, dropped out of film school by the end of his first semester of postsecondary education, but not before incurring more than $14,000 in debt.
Financial trouble and a series of break-ups with girlfriends put Fury in a downward emotional spiral in the months leading into the fires, Beneman argues. The recent depressions build on a foundation of instability, the attorney writes, including a period in the third grade when he and his mother were homeless after she broke up with her boyfriend at the time.
But Beneman argues that Fury has shown signs of promise, as well. As a percussionist in high school, he “won several band related awards playing in the high school marching band and in band competitions.” Despite a failed attempt at film school, Fury was described by friends and family as a “passionate, caring and gentle individual” who had no previous history of violence, according to the court document.
“Fury presents as a low risk for reoffense, particularly as these actions are atypical for his history and personality makeup,” Beneman writes, in part. The attorney adds that Fury struggled with bullying during school and at work, and his “vulnerability in prison” should be considered by the court in determining the sentence.
Federal prosecutors countered, however, that even if Fury did not intend for the first fire to cause as much damage as it did, he should have learned from the incident. Instead, prosecutors argue, he set a second fire, indicating a “great capacity for recklessness.”
“The defendant’s capacity to intentionally set a fire of any kind involving a nuclear submarine, not once, but a second time after personally witnessing the destruction caused, should lead the court to conclude, at best, the defendant lacks good judgment, and, at worst, that he is an arsonist,” the prosecution’s presentencing memorandum, filed Friday, reads in part.
The prosecution document also calls for a heavy sentence as a deterrent to others.
“A lengthy sentence is necessary to send the message that arson of any kind, let alone involving a nuclear submarine, is a serious and dangerous crime,” the memorandum reads.
The Navy has committed to repairing the USS Miami, and about one-third of the initial preparation and planning work — for which the Department of Defense has so far allocated $94 million — will be performed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. However, Navy officials have said restoration of the vessel will be largely put on hold because of the automatic federal spending cuts, also known as the sequester, triggered earlier this month.