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Couple sent to prison for arson

TYNDALL — A couple who owned a restaurant in Springfield are headed to prison for burning the building in 2010. Charles and Kimberly Johnson, of Niobrara, Neb., were each sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison, with nine years suspended, for burning Libby’s Steakhouse. Judge Glen Eng sentenced the couple at the same time at the Bon Homme County Courthouse in Tyndall.

Eng ordered that Charles Johnson, 62, begin serving his one-year sentence on Sept. 15 and Kim Johnson, 56, start serving hers Jan. 15. Eng explained both Johnsons will be eligible for parole after serving three months, which is why he staggered their prison times.

“You’re serving them at alternating times so you can still take care of your grandchildren,” Eng told the Johnsons. “I know it’s not the sentence you wanted.”

The Johnsons are also each required to pay $208 in court costs, $255.05 apiece in prosecution costs and $573,467.62 jointly in restitution.

The couple were convicted during a June jury trial of intentionally burning their restaurant. They were found guilty of second-degree arson and reckless burning, each of which is a felony.The fire, which destroyed the restaurant, also destroyed another business and damaged a third.

Judge Eng sentenced them Wednesday to 10 years on each charge, stating each of the sentences will run concurrently, or at the same time. Eng took into consideration statements from the Johnsons, their attorneys and letters from their family, saying the Johnsons are taking care of their grandchildren, are good people and that these crimes are the only ones on the couples’ records. Family members attended the hearing and sat in the front row.

The Johnsons’ attorneys, Ken Bertsch and Creighton Thurman, asked the judge for no prison time and a suspended imposition of sentence — meaning after successfully completing probation, the Johnsons could have had the felony charges cleared from their records. Judge Eng denied the request.

“I think it’s clear from the letters and the defendants’ statements that my client is still denying that they set fire to the bar, but we’re not here to argue that,” said Bertsch, Charles Johnson’s attorney.

“This bar really was the defendants’ lives. When they lost that bar, they lost everything. They had all their money invested in that bar.”

Bertsch and Thurman both asked the judge for leniency because the Johnsons are raising their grandson and granddaughter. Both attorneys mentioned the support the Johnsons have from their family and how Kimberly Johnson cannot find a job now that she’s been convicted of two felonies.“The only thing they can do in life now is raise those grandchildren,” Bertsch said. “They very desperately want to be involved in those grandchildren’s lives and be parent figures.”

Thurman said Kimberly Johnson is not a danger to society and would do well on probation.

 Each of the Johnsons asked for leniency in brief statements to the court. “I just beg your mercy today, your honor,” Charles Johnson said.