KEARNEY — A Shelton man has entered a plea of not responsible by reason of insanity in the December fire that destroyed the Zion North Shelton Lutheran Church.
James Martin Davis of Omaha, the attorney for Mathew Poehler of Shelton filed the notice Tuesday in Buffalo County District Court. Poehler, 40, is charged with felony second-degree arson of the church at 24975 Sioux Road, north of Shelton.
Poehler has denied the allegations. No hearing date has been set.
In July, Davis filed a motion asking Judge John Marsh to grant Poehler a competency evaluation. In that motion Davis asked for the evaluation to determine if Poehler was competent to stand trial, capable of assisting in his own defense and whether he suffers from any mental or psychological disorder.
Poehler was arrested in January after turning himself in at the Kearney/Buffalo County Law Enforcement Center following a three-week investigation by the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal.
At 11 p.m. Dec. 10, court records indicate Poehler’s family reported he had walked away from his house in Shelton. The fire was reported at 7:15 a.m. Dec. 11, and at 9:20 p.m. a family member located Poehler walking on U.S. Highway 30 near the Hall/Buffalo county line.
Reports indicate an officer went to Poehler’s house to check on his welfare and found Poehler, whose shoes allegedly smelled of diesel fuel. Poehler also had a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in the front pocket of his pants.
Court records indicate the investigation revealed in the early morning of Dec. 11 that Poehler allegedly obtained diesel fuel, entered the church through an unlocked door and started the fire in the balcony. Records indicate Poehler has a mental illness and had not been taking his medication at the time of the alleged incident.
He later turned himself in to authorities at the Kearney/Buffalo County Law Enforcement Center.
Poehler had done multiple remodeling projects on the church in the past, according to records.
The church was a total loss and the rubble since has been razed. A motive for the alleged crime is unclear.
Poehler remains in custody at the Buffalo County Jail.
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