Casey Fury is serving 17-year prison sentence and owes U.S. $400 million for torching nuke sub USS MiamiElizabeth Dinan, Portsmouth (NH) Herald
17 May 2015
When Casey Fury was a student in Portsmouth High School's Class of 2006, he was "a band geek" who played percussion in the drum line of the marching band and had aspirations of being a filmmaker.
Today, Fury is serving a 17-year prison sentence and owes the federal government $400 million for lighting a fire that ravaged the nuclear submarine USS Miami.
"Almost every day," Fury said, someone asks him if he's "the submarine guy."
Saturday is the 3-year anniversary of the fire that burned for 12 hours inside the Miami and led to its being scrapped. Firefighters responded from 24 different departments and most had never been inside a submarine before, according to court records. Five of them were injured.
Fury pleaded guilty to two counts of arson, but now says he only did so under the threat of a life sentence. He said he's uncovered new evidence and has petitioned Maine's U.S. District Court, without a lawyer, for a sentence reduction. He's arguing that his mental health and addiction problems weren't fully considered when he admitted to burning the sub and later lighting a second, smaller fire.
"I don't believe I'm responsible," Fury, 27, said last week during a phone interview from the federal prison in Fort Dix, N.J. "I don't believe I did it. I don't remember doing it."
Fury said he doesn't remember doing it because he was taking a lot of medication at the time, some of it prescribed, some not. The day he was picked up at his home by federal officials and confessed to lighting the submarine fire,
he said, he had taken 14 Klonopin pills, as well as Ambien to help him sleep the prior evening.
A 'Messed-Up Situation'
Fury was a civilian worker at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, doing a job called "needle gunning," painting and sandblasting, while wearing a Tyvek protective suit, earplugs and a respirator, in the tight confines of submarines. Federal court records report that Fury was on the job for only 11 days when he began receiving employee assistance services for anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
"My anxiety problems didn't start until I started working there," Fury said last week. "At times, I would have panic attacks almost immediately. I wouldn't be able to breathe and I felt like I was having a heart attack."
He said he sought treatment and was prescribed medications, which he sometimes mixed with alcohol and other prescription drugs he bought from co-workers on the grounds of the federal shipyard.
"I was absolutely miserable," he said.
For pain related to two concussions he got on the job, Fury said, he was given a prescription for Percoset.
"Ever since, I've wanted more," he said.
The day of the historic submarine fire, May 23, 2012, Fury was working in the Miami's torpedo room and went up to a mid-ship bunk room for better cellphone reception to text his ex-girlfriend and smoke a cigarette, according to court testimony. "Out of the blue," his public defender is quoted, Fury lit a nearby bag of rags on fire, the flames spread to the sub's oil-based paint "and turned this into a conflagration."
Fury's public defender, David Beneman, described the arson during his sentencing hearing as impulsive and out of character. Fury said last week that his shift started at 3 p.m. and "I don't think I remember going to work that day."
On top of taking pills and his mental health problems, Fury said, he often stopped at a bar outside the shipyard gates and drank beers before going to work.
After igniting the rags, Fury went back to work in the bowels of the submarine, until a co-worker tapped him to indicate there was a smoke situation and the 50 people on board were being evacuated, according to court records. Fury said he remembers nothing about the fire, but does recall its slow burn later, as he stood on a balcony in the dry dock area, "watching smoke come off the submarine."
He said he stayed in the area until 4 a.m., sometimes fetching water and dry T-shirts for the firefighters, who later described the firefighting effort as like going down a chimney into a woodstove. Federal prosecutor Darcie McElwee said during Fury's sentencing hearing that he "watched while others risked their lives to battle the fire, all while he stood safely on the pier, all because he wanted to leave work early."
News reports at the time said Fury lit the fire to leave work early to see his ex-girlfriend, but last week he said that's untrue. He said he was advised not to talk to the media as his legal case progressed and he denies that leaving work early was his motive. Why would he have stayed there until 4 a.m. if he wanted to leave early, Fury asked last week. But he doesn't answer his own question.
"I don't remember lighting the fire, or my confession," he said. "I was on Klonopin and a couple of mood stabilizers and Ambien. It's a really messed-up situation."
'Band Geek' Behind Bars
Federal officials first cited the cause of the fire as embers in a vacuum cleaner, but the focus soon shifted to Fury, who was arrested two months later.
By then he'd lit another small fire "on the dry dock blocks on which Miami rests" by igniting alcohol wipes, federal prosecutors said. Fury did so "to be sent home early from work," and the sub was again evacuated and there was little to no damage, court records state.
Fury now admits to setting the smaller fire and pulling a fire alarm on another date, but not setting the $400 million fire, for which he'd previously taken responsibility. He reiterates he doesn't remember much about that day and said, "I was having panic attacks."
A federal prosecutor said the second fire showed that "at best that Mr. Fury lacks good judgment and at worst that he is an arsonist." Fury's public defender argued that because the second fire was smaller, it was "deescalating conduct."
Fury said prior to the smaller fire he'd been hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of Portsmouth Regional Hospital because he was suicidal. He was also having nightmares about fires and would cry and suffer panic attacks while driving to work.
"I was miserable," said Fury, who claims he repeatedly reported his mental health problems as well as the medications he was taking to his immediate supervisor, while asking for work off the submarine.
The day of his arrest, Fury said, he was brought to the shipyard and "the only thing I remember was at the dry dock seeing someone I worked with giving me a weird look." Nine hours later, he said, "I was handcuffed."
He spent nine months in a Maine county jail and said he was still taking Klonopin, admitting "So I was kind of in this dream state."
The public defender was appointed because he couldn't afford private counsel and now Fury believes that if he could have afforded his own lawyer, "I wouldn't be here now."
Fury said an important witness statement was never brought forth in his defense. The statement, he said, was made by someone he was working with inside the Miami when the fire started and who told federal authorities that Fury couldn't have set the fire because he was working with him at the time.
"That statement was never introduced," Fury said.
Neither was an anonymous letter mailed to his father, then his public defender, and now part of the federal court record, filed with Fury's request for a new sentencing hearing. The letter says Fury is "a good kid" who was targeted by his manager who knew about his problems, "lacked compassion," and wanted Fury to "screw up" so he could be fired.
In an affidavit he filed with the court, Fury said he was not made aware of the letter before pleading guilty.
"The only evidence they had against me was my confession," he said. "My public defender scared me so much I ended up pleading out. I was told that if I didn't, I would get life. I didn't know what to do."
After being sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $400 million in restitution, Fury was put on a bus with other prisoners heading to the Fort Dix prison, all shackled at the ankles, he said. In the back of the bus, an armed guard "in a cage" kept watch, he said.
"I don't think it really hit me until I got here," Fury said. "As somebody without a record, it's devastating."
He said he wasn't getting Klonopin anymore, but did get access to heroin behind bars and was caught with "dirty urine."
Fury said he also attempted suicide by cutting his wrists last spring. "I sat there for a while bleeding," he said.
Just over a year ago, Fury said, he decided "I can't keep treating myself like this." He said he stopped taking all medications, began exercising and is "still on that path a year later."
"I do a lot of breathing exercises and I try to meditate here," he said.
He works in the prison kitchen and says he gets along with other inmates, but has no close connections. "I grew up a band geek," he said. "There's no one I really connect with."
Fury is also launching his own court case, trying to get in front of a federal judge for his sentence to be reconsidered. He said he thinks he should be punished for the small fire he set, but his sentence should be reduced because his confession to the submarine fire was false and forced.
"I'm hoping a judge looks at this and says there's way too many questions," he said.
Fury said he wants people to know he's "fighting for what's right" and that he's "not going to give up."
He asks anyone with information "who is willing to come forward, not anonymously" to write to him c/o Box 2000, Fort Dix, New Jersey 08640.