PERRY -- A jury deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours Thursday before finding a Houston County man guilty of setting his Mossy Lake Road home on fire March 15, 2008.
Thomas Wayne McFarling is expected to be sentenced at 10:30 a.m. Friday by Superior Court Judge Katherine K. Lumsden.
McFarling, who has been free on bond for the past seven years pending trial, was taken into custody after the judge gave him a few minutes with his family and friends.
Both in tears, McFarling and his wife kissed. He handed her his wedding ring for safekeeping.
A conviction of arson carries a sentencing range of one to 20 years in prison, but the judge has the discretion to allow the sentence to be served on probation.
McFarling’s attorney, Laura D. Hogue, of Macon, told the judge she planned to ask for a probationary sentence. She also asked that McFarling remain free on bond until the sentencing hearing.
Hogue noted the crime was nonviolent, McFarling had no prior criminal history and he has been faithful to his bond agreement.
But Lumsden said she felt the jury had spoken, and McFarling should be taken into custody. The judge did grant 10 minutes for McFarling with his family and friends before he was taken to the jail.
Lumsden also noted that her decision in no way reflected what sentence she may consider for McFarling. Assistant District Attorney Greg Winters, who helped prosecute the case, declined comment on what sentence the prosecution may seek.
Family and friends are expected to appeal to the judge on McFarling’s behalf at the sentencing hearing.
A juror, who declined to give his name, said jurors weighed the evidence and reached what they felt was a verdict that reflected the truth. Another juror standing with him in the courthouse parking lot declined comment.
Earlier Thursday, McFarling told jurors he did not set the fire that destroyed his home. He was charged with arson after he filed an insurance claim on the home valued at $294,300.
The 54-year-old told jurors he and his family lost everything in the fire, including a dog named Bailey that was a Christmas gift from their children and precious heirlooms of family members who are no longer living.
The family was also caring for another dog that perished in the fire. McFarling said the dog belonged to an airman deployed to Afghanistan, and they thought of the dog as their own.
“We lost everything,” he said.
McFarling, who fought to keep his composure during parts of his testimony, told jurors about he and his wife’s dream of building homes, living in them and then flipping them for profit.
They had hoped to sell the Mossy Lake Road home as well as another one they built in the same subdivision. The other home later sold.
The morning of the fire, McFarling said he awoke to the fire alarm, sat up in bed, smelled smoke and saw an orange glow. He rolled to the floor, crawled to the bathroom, escaped out a window and called 911.
He was home alone when the fire started, with his wife at a dental conference in Atlanta and his stepdaughters with their father.
Jurors also heard testimony Thursday that he and his family were not experiencing any financial troubles and were on time on payments. McFarling had equity credit, and both he and his wife had solid jobs. The home was also underinsured by about $100,000 at the time of the fire.
Friends, including two youth pastors who knew him from his involvement with his children through church, testified McFarling was an honest and truthful man.
The trial was marked by conflicting testimony among experts about a petroleum residue found in the living room in front of the gas fireplace.
Experts for the prosecution testified the residue was indicative of a pour pattern from an ignitable liquid being poured and then lit while the gas line to the fireplace was disconnected.
Those for the defense testified that a petroleum residue showed up not only in that section of the house but elsewhere and could be attributed to stain and sealing products used in the home, and markings in front of the fireplace could have been created by furniture and other furnishings that melted in the fire.
Public safety personnel testified during the trial that their suspicions were raised by McFarling’s story of escaping the fire by diving out a bathroom window in a white T-shirt and jeans that were not soiled. They also noted he did not reek of smoke or have any cuts or bruises.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.