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Arsonist from '95 fires sent back to prison

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- A North Carolina man who helped set a destructive fire to a town business as a teen in 1995 must serve more time in prison for violating probation again.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp ordered Franklin Charles Rusnak, 34, of Gibsonville, N.C., in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Wednesday to serve the remaining five years of a previously suspended sentence he received for an arson conviction. Hupp found Rusnak in violation of the terms of his supervised probation for a fourth time since his release from serving the initial sentence.

Rusnak told Hupp he has a child and a fiancé in North Carolina and asked the judge for leniency.

"I have very much potential," Rusnak said.

But Hupp, citing transcripts from the hearing of Rusnak's third violation, noted he warned the probationer then about breaking rules.

"I do understand you had a horrendous childhood," Hupp told Rusnak. "It's clear from the presentence report. But you're 34 years old ... You've got to put that behind you."

Rusnak served two years of a 10-year sentence for arson after setting fire to property owned by Woodstock Ford Tractor on Sept. 23, 1995, according to court records. Rusnak received 5 years, all suspended, for each of two counts of breaking and entering into the Walton & Smoot Drug Store in town on Sept. 23 and 24, 1995. Though Rusnak was 17 at the time he committed the offenses, the commonwealth charged the teen as an adult. He pleaded guilty to each of the charges.

The court ordered Rusnak at sentencing in August 1996 to pay more than $1 million in restitution to the victims' insurance companies.

King has paid approximately $3,500 toward the restitution. Rusnak has paid only $2,375, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Albert T. Mitchell.

Shenandoah County probation and parole officer Cindy A. Ritter states in a Jan. 10, 2012 letter to the commonwealth's attorney that Rusnak's "adjustment to supervised probation has been poor." A violation in January 2006 resulted in the court ordering Rusnak back to prison to serve three years of the suspended sentence in the arson conviction, the letter states.

Ritter notes Rusnak has violated a special condition of his probation, which required that he make payments toward his court-ordered financial obligations. The last payment came May 2.

Rusnak appeared with his attorney, Charles B. Ramsey, and asked for leniency. Rusnak claimed he used marijuana as a means of "self-medication" to treat a mental illness which he has suffered for years. Rusnak recounted living a tough childhood in Ohio, first with an incapacitated mother then volleyed to foster parents where he suffered from abuse. At one point he was sent to Massanutten Military Academy, the attorney noted. Ramsey reiterated his client's experiences when asking the judge for leniency.

Hupp referred to transcripts taken of a hearing for Rusnak's third violation, during which the judge had told the probationer.

But according to court documents Rusnak violated probation the first of the four times shortly after his release from prison. Rusnak transferred his probation to other states such as Ohio and Tennessee where submitted to urine screens which regularly tested positive for marijuana, court documents show. Revocations also were based on new violations of law in other locations as well as for failing to report to the probation office as scheduled.

Ramsey, in arguing for leniency for the fourth violation, noted Rusnak's co-defendant in the arson and burglary cases, Michael King , also 17 at the time, received time served for his role in the initial incidents.

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