Bond reduction denied for Utica mother facing aggravated arson charge

Pode trial scheduled for Sept. 17

Tom Collins

OTTAWA - Sandra Pode's spotless record and strong community ties weren't enough to persuade a judge to lower her $1 million bond.

Without explanation, Circuit Judge James A. Lanuti refused Monday to reduce the accused arsonist's bond to $100,000 or less, as requested by Pode's lawyer.

Instead, Pode, 34, of Utica, will remain in La Salle County Jail until her Sept. 17 trial date.

Defense attorney David Camic argued in open court that Pode was not a flight risk, noting that Pode have never been arrested, resided six years in Utica and is mother to eight children, aged 14 years to five months.

He also produced a witness, Linda Carroll of Ottawa, who agreed to let Pode stay with her until the trial date.

"The present bond would be oppressive to anyone," Camic said, "and it's particularly oppressive for Mrs. Pode."

Camic asked Lanuti to lower the bond to a figure between $50,000 and $100,000, enabling Pode and her supporters to post up to $10,000 in cash and get Pode released.

But state's attorney Joe Hettel reminded Lanuti of the severity of the crime - aggravated arson carries 6-30 years in prison - and pointed out that Pode's husband and seven children (the eighth was not yet born) were inside the home when she allegedly set the fire.

Pode also provided police with a nine-page statement detailing exactly how and why she set the fire, Hettel said.

Hettel also noted that Pode is a danger to herself. He said she attempted suicide after her arrest. Details of the suicide attempt were not disclosed in open court.

The bond reduction hearing was promised as far back as February, but was repeatedly delayed while Lanuti and the various attorneys - Pode has changed lawyers twice - sorted out her mental condition and other pretrial issues.

Lanuti settled the mental fitness issue for good Monday when he ruled that Pode is fit to stand trial. That move was expected since Wednesday, when it was revealed that Pode's latest psychiatric evaluation showed that she has recovered from a bout with depression.

With both sides now agreeing that Pode can stand trial, Lanuti was able to set the trial date and an Aug. 9 status hearing.

Though no one was seriously hurt in the Feb. 2 fire, prosecutors considered charging Pode with attempted murder. They declined Hettel has stated, because the sentencing ranges for arson and attempted murder are the same.