CROWN POINT | A judge sentenced a Dyer man to 12 years of prison and home detention for burning down the home of a Lynwood police officer and her three children.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell said she remains puzzled about the motive of the crime, "I consider this a senseless act of violence, and I still don't have a good feel for why he did this," she said.
Christopher Costello, 24, pleaded guilty last fall to arson, under a deal in which charges of attempted murder of the officer's three children were dropped.
He offered apologies to Lynwood police Officer Kelly Johnson and her family, but no explanation of his actions.
He must serve half the time in the Department of Correction and the other half in the Lake County Community Correction program, which could reduce his confinement to home detention.
Costello, who lived less than a block from the victim's residence, broke through a rear door Dec. 20, 2008, set fire to a box of clothing and stood by without alerting authorities as it spread through the structure.
Costello told police he knew the house was occupied, but his lawyer argued it is uncertain if he really did. Officer Johnson wasn't home but her three children were, including daughter, Kaitlin.
Kaitlin broke into tears Friday when asked about the impact of the crime. "Having to run out of your burning house and hearing your dog howling because its being burned alive. ... It's hard for me, especially when I'm home alone.
"Our smoke alarm went off one night recently because of steam from the shower, and I couldn't go back to sleep. He lives down the street from us and if you've done it once, it could happen again," she said.
The officer's two sons were forced to jump from windows to escape the flames. Her son, Jason, wrote to the court, "What kind of person does this?"
Costello was found barefoot, covered in soot and smelling of smoke, sitting in a vehicle of a passer-by along with the victims' children.
Costello later admitted he set the fire because he "hates cops" and knew Johnson was an officer.
Merrillville defense lawyer Paul Stracci told the judge Costello was a gentle man with no criminal record for whom the arson was an aberration that would never happen again.
He said Costello has been gainfully employed since the crime, has become engaged and is the father of a 1-year-old son. He and his fiancee recently bought their own home.
Stracci argued unsuccessfully to have Costello avoid prison because he was drunk that night and may have been under the influence of another man not charged in this case but who is under investigation for other arsons in Illinois. However, he said, this is uncertain because Costello's memory of the crime is foggy.
Boswell said, "Even if this was the other guy's idea, the defendant went along with it."