Steidley convicted of Everhart's fire

Kurt Steidley was convicted Monday of setting fire to Everheart’s on Missouri Boulevard on Jan. 1, 2011. He will face sentencing in March.

Kurt Steidley was convicted Monday of setting fire to Everheart’s on Missouri Boulevard on Jan. 1, 2011. He will face sentencing in March. Photo by Julie Smith.

A Cole County jury took 3½ hours Monday to convict a western Missouri man of setting his Jefferson City business on fire three years ago.

Kurt Steidley, 53, Knob Noster, was found guilty of second-degree arson for the New Year’s Day 2011 fire at Everhart’s Sporting Goods, 2436 Missouri Blvd.

Judge Dan Green set March 10 as Steidley’s next court date, when sentencing might take place.

Steidley faces up to seven years in prison.

He remains free on $25,000 bond.

Spending about three hours on the witness stand Monday morning, Steidley was the final witness in the trial that began last Wednesday.

He spent his time answering questions about his financial status at the time of the fire and going over testimony which the jury had heard previously during the trial, from recordings made during the investigation, and for an insurance company.

Steidley said that the economic downturn of 2007-08, along with the opening of a Bass Pro Shop in Columbia, were primary reasons why he closed the business on Dec. 24, 2010.

Steidley said he last was inside the business on Dec. 30.

After spending Jan. 1 on his farm — where he fell and struck his head — Steidley told insurance officials he went by the store that evening and smelled gas, but only in one part of the building.

He claimed he left after talking on the cell phone with his longtime plumbing specialist, Max Parsons of Warrensburg. Steidley testified that Parson said the gas leak wasn’t a big deal if he couldn’t smell it in other areas of the building.

Parsons testified last week that Steidley asked him not to tell anyone that he had been inside the business before the fire began.

During that phone call, Steidley told Parsons the fire was started by a disgruntled customer, who knocked him out and then put him in his truck.

Several fire investigators testified during the trial that the fire appeared to have been started by an incendiary liquid, introduced near an open flame.

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson contended that, with the business going down, Steidley started the fire to get the money back that he had lost.

In his closing statement, Steidley’s lawyer, Shane Farrow, said his client would have had to display three things to be considered guilty — insanity, anger and desperation — and his client showed none of these.

“He had several other business that were showing profits at the time of the fire and he could have handled any financial issues that Everhart’s was going through,” Farrow said. “The prosecution showed no physical evidence to link my client to this fire. There were four lab tests done on evidence — and no fingerprints or DNA could be found.”

Farrow pointed out that Steidley did not have a key to the building at the time the fire occurred, saying it had been given to Gordon Brothers Real Estate so they could try and sell the building.

Farrow also suggested others who testified in the case — such as store manager Jeff Lister and customer Drew Buersmeyer, who had a disagreement with Lister over a business dealing prior to the fire — probably had more motive to commit the crime than Steidley.

“My client (Steidley) didn’t believe Lister could do it since he was his longtime manager and, because of that, it kept (Lister) from being a suspect,” Farrow said.

In his closing argument, Richardson noted the case had too many inconsistencies in common sense. He told jurors part of their job was to determine the believability of witnesses.

Richardson took issue with Steidley’s story that, on the night of the fire, he had talked with Parson about smelling gas in part of the building after he stopped by the store to make sure everything was OK.

“Wouldn’t you think if you smelled gas and knew what the dangers could be from a leak, you’d want to go and get something to shut it off?” Richardson asked the jury. “When he found out about the fire, wouldn’t he have wanted to come right back to Jefferson City?

“The only person that would have gained by having the business explode and his records be burned up is Mr. Steidley.”

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