It was an emotional case that many people were paying attention to because Seth Arceneaux was accused of starting the fire that destroyed Millennium Park last year. But the jury has spoken and the verdict is not guilty.
It took the jury only fifteen minutes to reach a verdict in the case of Arceneaux, only 17 years old when he was arrested and accused of setting the fire that destroyed the park.
Arceneaux and his friends emerged from the courthouse jubilant. They shouted, "Not guilty! Not guilty!" And Arceneaux waved around a piece of paper, apparently from court officials that provides confirmation of the not guilty verdict. Said Arceneaux, "You know why? My reputation was ruined from this. People thought I really did this. I'm not guilty. I would like Lake Charles to realize that I'm not guilty now, my reputation should be reformed. I'm not a bad person. I never was a bad kid."
Arceneaux said the cloud of suspicion held him back but now he's ready to move ahead. "I did a lot of things to improve my life during the time I was being held back, by this charge. Now that it's over, I will presume to be a successful man. I thank the jury for being fair and understanding, everything, because this was all hearsay."
One of the most damaging witnesses against Arceneaux was Kayla Stiles and she agreed with him. "It's not fair, if only the DA could ask me questions, and not his lawyer then they're only going to get the bad side of hearsay stuff, not the actual side that his lawyer was trying to get out and that's just not fair. They're trying to get the DA to get out everything but it's not the truth."
Stiles testified Arceneaux had told her that they were carving names into the wood at the park, got nervous because it was vandalism and that "Seth said he burned it off with his lighter."
Fire investigators concluded the blaze was arson and a slow burning fire was made worse by windy conditions. But jurors evidently didn't believe the evidence was sufficient to convict Arceneaux. "I'm not guilty baby, not guilty," he said, mugging for the camera. His friends echoed the cry. "Not Guilty!" Arceneaux said again, "Not Guilty! Thank you America."
The case was based on circumstantial evidence. That is, there was no physical evidence linking Arceneaux to the fire. That may have hurt the state since many people nowadays are loyal viewers of crime shows in which crime scene analyses always yield dramatic, incontrovertible findings, such as DNA, that are often not available in the real world.
District attorney John DeRosier says they live with the findings of juries day in and day out and respect their decisions.
During the trial, Arceneaux took the stand briefly in his own defense. Under oath he denied going to Millennium Park January 9, 2011; he denied carving into the wood and he denied starting the fire.
Under cross examination by the prosecutor, Arceneaux offered no explanation for why he brought up the topic of lighters and the boardwalk--while being questioned by detectives.
Two friends of Arceneaux, including Stiles, testified he admitted to setting fire to Millennium Park.