PORTLAND, Maine — Casey James Fury, 25, was sentenced to 205 months in federal prison Friday morning for setting two fires at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, one of which gutted a U.S. Navy nuclear attack submarine and injured five people.
The sentence amounts to 17 years and one month in prison for the crimes, a term U.S. District Court Justice George Z. Singal described as a compromise between the 19 years, seven months sought by federal prosecutors and the 15 years, eight months recommended by Fury’s attorney, public defender David Beneman.
“We don’t lightly give out sentences of 15-20 years in this court, nor should we,” Singal said Friday. “I think we can all agree that even a year in federal prison is a long time. We save those sentences for very bad conduct, or to send a message to others that dangerous behavior warrants a serious punishment.
“But the human aspect of a young man with mental health issues and no history of antisocial behavior cannot be ignored,” he later added. “As is so often the case when dealing with human beings, the answer is somewhere in between.”
During the nearly two-hour sentencing hearing Friday morning at the federal courthouse in Portland, a top Navy official and shipyard firefighter testified about the damage the acts of arson caused. Fury also spoke emotionally during the hearing, telling Singal of the remorse he feels for the crimes and respect he has for America’s military and firefighters who were put in danger by the fires.
Fury, who was 24 at the time, was a civilian painter and sandblaster at the Kittery facility when he set fires on May 23 and June 16 of last year. He later admitted to the crimes and told investigators he was suffering from anxiety attacks and set the fires for an excuse to leave work and correspond with his girlfriend.
Fury appeared in court Friday in an orange, multilayered prison-issued outfit. He had a close-cropped haircut and wore rectangular glasses.
“I cannot put into words how much remorse I feel,” he said, pausing frequently to fight back tears. “It was a moment of extreme anxiety and panic, and I did not ever intend for that amount of damage to be done. To those who were injured in their heroic actions responding to the fire, I am most sorry.”
Fury also faces five years of supervised release after his prison term is complete, and is required to make payments to the Navy to offset $400 million in damage caused to the USS Miami, a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack sub undergoing repairs, in the blaze.
More than 100 firefighters from multiple states fought the fire and five people were injured in the incident, although nobody was killed.
One of those injured was shipyard firefighter Eric Hardy, who was hurt lunging to grab the air pack of a fellow responder who was falling into the top hatch of the burning submarine. Hardy said the other firefighter likely would have died if he had fallen down the hatch approximately 20 feet into the blazing engine room beneath.
“I’m in constant pain every day,” Hardy told the court Friday. “I suffered a herniated disc, a bulging disc, a torn rotator cuff.
“If that’s the price I’ve got to pay to save a firefighter’s life, I’m OK with it,” he later continued. “But we shouldn’t have been in that position. I understand accidents happen, but for somebody to set a fire intentionally to get off work? To me, that’s unforgivable.”
Hardy also described to Singal the unique circumstances of fighting a fire aboard a nuclear submarine.
“The best way I can describe it, sir, is fighting a fire in a wood stove and climbing down the chimney,” he said, adding that the flames were so hot the aluminum pins holding a ladder in place steadily melted away.
Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, head of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Group Two, said that because of mandatory federal budget cuts, commonly referred to as the sequester, that went into effect earlier this month, the USS Miami may never be repaired, despite the Navy’s previous plans to restore the vessel.
He said that “dry docks in the United States are a hot commodity,” and with the USS Miami occupying such a repair facility indefinitely, it places maintenance work on other vessels behind schedule and forces longer deployments of other submarines to fill the lost vessel’s place in the country’s defense missions.
Fury pleaded guilty to two counts of arson in November 2012 in exchange for a recommended prison sentence between 188 months, which his attorney argued for, and 235 months.
For the two counts of arson, he had faced a maximum possible sentence of life in prison plus 25 years, as well as restitution payments.
The fire on June 16, on the facility dry dock near the burned submarine, was extinguished quickly.
However, it was the second fire that attracted much of the debate Friday in court. U.S. Assistant Attorney Darcie McElwee argued that even if Fury did not intend for the first fire to cause as much harm as it did, he should have learned from the incident instead of setting a second blaze.
But Beneman, representing Fury, argued that the second fire, set on the dry dock outside the submarine, and a subsequent incident in which Fury pulled a fire alarm, showed that even though he struggled to overcome his anxiety problems, the defendant was de-escalating his actions.
Beneman argued that the acts of arson represented an aberration from Fury’s behavior, that he was described by friends and family members as quiet, shy and good-natured, and now that he is on an adjusted medication prescription, he has taken control of his emotional health.
Beneman also noted that, if not for the financial loss associated with the expensive submarine, sentencing guidelines would recommend a sentence of between 24 and 39 months for two counts of arson.
Singal said he agreed in part with both sides.
“There seems little doubt that the loss of that submarine for an extended period of time impacts the Navy’s ability to perform its functions,” he said. “The other side of the page is that we’re dealing with a 25-year-old man who probably didn’t intend to create this amount of damage.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted the number of years in the prison sentence.