After one of the lengthiest trials in modern Houston County history, it took only two hours for a jury to reach a verdict. The panel found Joshua Allen Garzarek, 28, guilty of Second Degree Arson in connection with a fire that damaged a Dothan restaurant in 2010.
After hearing six days of testimony and arguments, the jury got the case at 11:25 a.m. Monday. Before beginning deliberations, the panel requested only a brief lunch break, apparently anxious to get to the task at hand. They had first reported for jury duty 171 hours earlier.
Jurors had just heard emotional closing arguments by District Attorney Douglas Albert Valeska and defense attorney Arthur Medley. "Use your common sense," Valeska told jurors. "Garzarek set the fire no matter what the defense would have you believe."
Medley tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the jury that the prosecution had only inconsistent and unsubstantiated evidence in their effort to convict his client. He also questioned the credibility of Garzarek's former girlfriend, Kali Hyatt, who worked at Poplar Head Grill when it burned.
Much case often centered on the tumultuous relationship between Garzarek and Hyatt as much as it did the arson case itself. Valeska and investigators contend the fire at the now-defunct restaurant was just one in a long series of aggressive acts by Garzarek in efforts to intimidate Hyatt.
"I'm very happy the jury vindicated (Ms. Hyatt) and that she can now have peace, be safe and secure and not worry about Garzarek trying to beat her up, burn her house, and take her child's life," said Valeska.
Court records show Garazak has pending appeals on misdemeanor domestic violence charges involving Hyatt. He also is scheduled to appear in court later this summer on a charge he carried a pistol without a permit and an obstruction of justice charge for giving a false name or identification to officers.
"I've been going through this for about three years now. I'm glad (Josh) is getting what he deserves," Hyatt said minutes after the verdict was read by Circuit Judge Brad Mendheim.
Medley said he and Garzarek are weighing their legal options. A pre-sentence investigation will be conducted. Mendheim is scheduled to sentence Garzarek in August.