Admitted arsonist seeks probation — (Knoxville News-Sentinal)

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Knoxville News-Sentinal

By JAMIE SATTERFIELD, satterfield@knews.com

June 29, 2005

Teen served jail term before entering plea for torching eatery

Call it justice in reverse.

William Hill Sides III, 19, admitted Tuesday that he torched the landmark eatery Ye Olde Steak House. But he’s not headed to jail. He’s leaving it, already having served six months as punishment for the November 2002 arson.

In an unusual agreement brokered between Assistant District Attorney General Leslie Nassios and defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, Sides began serving jail time for the restaurant arson before he formally admitted the crime.

Now, Sides is asking Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz to allow him to spend the rest of his six-year prison sentence on probation and place him under judicial diversion.

Under judicial diversion, Sides’ record will be wiped clean at the end of his six-year sentence if he obeys the law during his probationary period.

“Mr. Sides is very sorry for what he’s done,” Isaacs said. “(Sides) has significant problems with depression and was placed on an antidepressant that has been known to cause a lot of suicidal and aberrant behavior in young people. Regardless, he accepts responsibility for what he did.”

Sides was a 17-year-old South-Doyle High School student and an ROTC cadet when he set fire to the roof of the Chapman Highway restaurant where he had worked as a busboy.

The resulting blaze gutted the landmark restaurant, causing some $600,000 in damages. The eatery has since reopened after extensive renovations.

As part of his plea agreement, Sides was ordered to pay restitution, although an exact figure has not been determined.

Isaacs has pointed out that Sides was quick to accept responsibility for the crime after his March 2003 arrest, agreeing to have his case tried in adult court and entering a plea.

It is unusual for a defendant to volunteer for a jail term without having actually admitted guilt. However, the move kept Sides off the books of the state Department of Correction, making his eventual attempt to clear his record a bit easier.

“He’s ready to move forward with his life,” Isaacs said.

Sides wants to attend college, the defense attorney said.

He is not yet in the clear, though. Leibowitz has ordered a presentence investigation of Sides and his background and is reserving judgment on his request for probation and diversion until August.

Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308.