Dane County authorities arrested a town of Cottage Grove man they say set fire to a house Sunday night in a vigilante effort to keep a sex offender from moving in there.
Russell A. Speigle, 50, was arrested on a tentative charge of arson for the fire, which destroyed a home at 4721 Gaston Circle in the town of Cottage Grove, Sheriff Dave Mahoney said Tuesday.
Investigators are now trying to determine if Speigle was responsible for another fire that damaged the same house in December, Mahoney said.
They are also looking for some pieces of evidence that could connect Speigle to the fire, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The home was to house 40-year-old Howard Nyberg as part of a supervised sex offender release program, over vocal opposition from the man’s neighbors — Speigle among them, Mahoney said.
The first fire, on Dec. 8, caused $90,000 worth of damage, the Sheriff’s Office said. The home was repaired after that blaze and was considered a total loss after Sunday’s fire.
Speigle lived “only doors away” from the Gaston Circle home, Mahoney said, and had attended a notification meeting the Sheriff’s Office held last week to tell neighborhood residents about Nyberg.
“Like many, (Speigle) voiced his displeasure” that Nyberg was coming to the area, Mahoneysaid.
An article about the notification meeting from The Herald-Independent quoted Speigle saying the neighborhood was “upset and on guard” with Nyberg set to move in.
Nyberg was convicted in 1994 of second-degree child sexual assault and was later committed as a sexually violent person to a secure treatment center in Mauston, according to courtrecords.
Despite objections from Speigle and other neighbors, some of whom are now pushing the Cottage Grove Town Board to adopt an ordinance barring sex offenders on supervised release from living there, Nyberg was set to move to the home within a fewweeks.
“The place to carry out those kinds of actions is at the public notification meeting, so that we can address those concerns,” Mahoney said. “What is unacceptable is acts of vigilantism such as this.”
Investigators talked with Speigle at his home soon after the second fire, Mahoney said, and could see that he had recently suffered burns.
Speigle’s booking photo from the Dane County Jail shows what appear to be burns across much of his face.
Mahoney did not say why investigators didn’t arrest Speigle that night, but the Sheriff’s Office said authorities learned he had left Cottage Grove soon after talking with detectives.
Investigators with the Sheriff’s Office and the state Department of Justice continued building a case against Speigle, tracked him to a relative’s home in Muscoda and arrested him there Monday, Mahoney said.
Speigle was treated and released from the UW Hospital burn unit, then booked into the jail Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office said.
At a news conference Tuesday, Mahoney declined to say whether authorities suspect anyone other than Speigle may have been involved in the arson, or if Speigle has been cooperating with investigators.
Mahoney stressed that Sunday’s blaze put firefighters and first responders in danger, and said the “most alarming” aspect of Speigle’s actions was that he set fire to a home so close to where he lived.
“Not only did the actions of Mr. Speigle endanger public safety professionals, it endangered his own neighbors,” Mahoney said.
As they continue their investigations, Mahoney said authorities are looking for two gas canisters they believe Speigle used in the Sunday night fire.
Mahoney said investigators could see Speigle holding the red, plastic jugs Sunday night in images taken from a camera near the home that burned.
Authorities suspect the cans may have been dumped somewhere between Cottage Grove and Muscoda, and asked anyone who might have seen them to call the state arson tip line at 800-362-3005 or the Sheriff’s Office tip line at 608-284-6900. ..Source.. by NICO SAVIDGE
MADISON (WKOW) — A Cottage Grove man Monday admitted to setting fire to the future home of a sex offender, and was convicted of felony arson.
51-year old Russell Speigle will be sentenced next month. The crime carries a maximum sentence of forty years. But a plea agreement between Speigle and the Dane County district attorney’s office involves prosecutors asking for no more than one year in jail for Speigle, as part of a probation term. Assistant Dane County District Attorney Corey Stephan declines comment.
After Monday’s hearing, Speigle – who is free on a signature bond – also declined comment to 27 News.
In February 2015, Speigle set a fire and caused a small explosion to the home on Gaston Circle. Community members had been told registered child sex offender Howard Nyberg was going to move into the home, and Speigle was one of the most vocal opponents of the planned move.
Authorities have surveillance camera video of a man believed to be Speigle leaving the home at the time of the fire. A jail booking photo of Speigle from last year shows what authorities say are burns to Speigle’s face from the fire he set. Speigle appears to have recovered.
The home’s rebuilding continues, and Nyberg never moved into the neighborhood. State records show Nyberg moved-in to a residence in Stoughton.
A town of Cottage Grove man was sentenced Friday to five years of probation for setting the fire that burned a home where a sexual offender, released from a state treatment facility, was supposed to live.
Russell A. Speigle, 51, who will also serve three months of jail time, apologized for the ordeal he put his family through by setting the fire to the home at 4721 Gaston Circle on Feb. 22, 2015, and to his neighbors for the worry he put them through. He said he takes full responsibility for the fire.
“I acted alone, without cooperation or encouragement from anyone,” Speigle said. “My motive was not revenge or retaliation. There was no profit motive. I took no pride in destroying someone’s private property. At the time, I saw it as a desperate last resort to circumstances with no good options.”
That circumstance was the decision by state authorities to house released sexual predator Howard Nyberg at the house, a decision that Speigle and his neighbors fought by various measures, including trying to buy the house from its owner and also by convincing the town of Cottage Grove board to create an ordinance banning sexual offenders from being settled in its borders.
Speigle’s lawyer, Bruce Rosen, also said it was a personal situation for Speigle, who had told nearly nobody that as a youngster, he had been the victim of another sexual offender who was eventually brought to justice. Rosen said that man kept a log of all of his victims, and Speigle was one of 35 names on the list.
Speigle initially denied setting the fire, despite burns that police saw on his face soon after the fire and other evidence that showed he had purchased gasoline cans prior to the fire just like the ones seen on motion-activated cameras that were placed at the home by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office after an earlier suspicious fire there in December 2014.
Last month, however, Speigle pleaded guilty to the arson charge.
Nobody was ever arrested for the December 2014 fire, and Deputy District Attorney Corey Stephan said Friday that there is no evidence that Speigle was involved in setting it.
The house has been repaired, but Nyberg lives elsewhere.
Stephan, calling Speigle’s actions “simply an act of vigilante justice,” asked for eight years of probation with a year in the Dane County Jail as a condition of probation. Rosen asked for five years of probation with no jail.
Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds said that while it was appropriate that Speigle receive no time in prison, she said not sending him to jail for at least part of his sentence would send the wrong message, and signal to others that vigilante justice is OK in Dane County.
“Let’s state the obvious,” Reynolds said. “As parents and law-abiding citizens, no one wants his next-door neighbor to be a sexual predator.”
She said she understands why the neighbors would fight the move so vigorously. “However, there’s not a place in society for vigilante justice,” she said.
Reynolds sentenced Speigle to nine months in jail, but stayed the first six months of it, leaving him with three months to serve. He will be allowed to report to jail to start his sentence at a later date.
Reynolds said that by being charged in the case Speigle and his family were subjected to very real consequences, including public humiliation.
Speigle will also now carry a felony conviction, she said, and with it, he won’t be able to show his children how to hunt, which he had wanted to do, because he will no longer be able to own or possess a firearm.
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