Pode pleads to lesser charge avoids arson trial

Bob Morrow

Ottawa - During an unscheduled court appearance Friday, aggravated arson defendant Sandra Pode pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received a three-year prison sentence and four years probation

Pode, 34, of Utica pleaded guilty in LaSalle County Circuit Court to one count of criminal damage to property in exchange for the three-year sentence, defense attorney David Camic of Aurora said. Pode also pleaded guilty to one count of simple arson, for which she was given probation.

Pode was scheduled for a final pre-trial hearing Thursday, and her jury trial was to begin Sept. 17. Had she been convicted on the original charge of aggravated arson she would have faced a mandatory sentence ranging from six to 30 years.

With credit for time already served since Feb. 1, and with day-to-day "good time," Pode likely will be freed in less than a year.

Pode, the wife of area physician Robert Pode, was accused of setting fire to her home about 2 a.m. Feb. 1 while her husband and their seven children, ages 18 months to 13 years, slept.

The home was heavily damaged, and firefighters found the entire family standing in the driveway.

Last month, defense attorneys Camic and Marvin Bloom of Chicago sought to suppress Pode's confession to police.

They contended that Pode, who was nearly nine months pregnant at the time, had not slept, was not offered food and was questioned for hours by investigators later Feb.1.

During the suppression hearing, LaSalle County Investigator Mike Renner testified Pode initially denied any knowledge of the blaze. After several hours, however, she admitted starting the fire in her oldest son's bedroom because of an ongoing custody and visitation dispute with her ex-husband.

Camic and Bloom argued Pode was exhausted and emotionally distraught and was coerced into the confession.

Circuit Judge James A. Lanuti allowed the confession to stand.

After Friday's hearing, Camic said, "Even if you believe Sandra's confession, which I don't, she never said she meant to hurt anyone. Her confession supported a charge of criminal damage."

Camic also said, "I believe the prosecution had concerns that a lesser charge would have been allowed in jury instructions had the case gone to trial."

State's Attorney Joe Hettel could not be reached for comment.