Keller Gets 75 Years -- Arsonist Shows No Emotion As Judge Delivers Sentence
EVERETT - Even when the hammer fell, Paul Kenneth Keller didn't seem to get it.
The Lynnwood man whose arson fires terrorized the region for five months will spend the rest of his life in prison, a Snohomish County judge ruled yesterday.
In uncompromising terms, Superior Court Judge Kathryn Trumbull told Keller he alone was responsible for the damage he had caused and sentenced him to 75 years. Keller hardly blinked, watching her impassively with no visible emotion except a flushed face.
"I bet you $5 I'll go over (to the jail) right now, and he'll ask me whether the prosecutors remembered to dismiss his speeding tickets," said his attorney, Royce Ferguson, after Keller was led from the courtroom. "I don't think he understands."
Trumbull called Keller a dangerous criminal. "There's no way in good conscience I could enter a sentence where you could end up back on the streets in a situation where you could ever light another fire," she said.
In the back of the courtroom, one of Keller's victims said, "Yes!"
With time off for good behavior, the 27-year-old man would be about 77 years old before he could be released from prison.
Trumbull seemed particularly offended by Keller's lack of remorse for the 77 fires he confessed to setting.
Two dozen victims took most of one day of Keller's three-day sentencing hearing to tell their stories. "I think everybody was terribly moved except for one person, and that was you, Paul Keller."
She added: "I'm not really sure he can show remorse. There's something in his connection with other people that is just not there."
Trumbull ordered him to pay restitution to his victims out of any money he might make by selling his story as a book or a movie.
Deputy Prosecutor Ellen Fair said the judge addressed Keller in a way victims couldn't. "It was nice for the victims to see the judge look him in the eye and say, `What you did was really, really wrong.' "
Keller did not speak at the hearing but wrote an open letter apologizing to his victims that was read aloud by Ferguson yesterday before the sentence was pronounced. (See text on this page.)
In a tearful statement following the sentencing, Keller's father, George, said his son's actions left everyone victims.
"All our lives, we will be sorrowful for your pain, your loss . . . May God in his grace help all of us," he said.
Several fire victims were in tears themselves afterward, feeling their own losses as well as the Keller family's sorrow.
"It's a tragedy. He is a young man who is going to prison for the rest of his life. It's hard not to feel sorry for him," said Phyllis Allen, daughter-in-law of Helen Allen, a 94-year-old Seattle woman burned out of her home by Keller.
Vince Geddes, whose family's Marysville business was devastated by a $1.7 million fire, was not placated by Keller's long sentence.
"My thought was you should have him work every day at every site he burned down, even under armed supervision. I don't think it would cost much more; it doesn't do any good having him sit in prison," Geddes said.
"At least he's not going to be able to light more fires," said Geddes. "That's the only advantage I see to him being in jail - he won't be able to hurt anybody else."
For Chalene Rau of Everett, the sentence represents the first step toward healing her shattered family.
On Oct. 15, Keller burned down a trailer that was home to her brother, Shannon Rau, who was still recovering from the murder of his wife three years ago. Now his pain is so consuming he's withdrawn from everyone, even his two young sons.
"It is one step closer to finalizing the trauma, and we can start to move on," said Chalene Rau, who now cares for her nephews.
"I forgive him, but that doesn't mean I want him loose," she said. "If they release him at 80, he can still flick his Bic" (a reference to the use of a lighter to start fires).
Rod Metcalf of Lynnwood, whose wife and seven children still are haunted by memories of the fire that destroyed their home, said the wounds Keller caused will be evident for a long time.
"We need to start the healing now and get back to our lives," he said.
Lt. Randy Litchfield, a lead investigator on the arson task force formed to catch the arsonist, said he had mixed feelings about the hearing.
"This was kind of a bittersweet thing. I'm very glad it's over, I'm happy with the ruling," yet Litchfield said he couldn't forget the pain of Keller family members who have become his friends.
Ferguson said his client likely will appeal the sentence but he doubted it would be successful.
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