Mother, daughter arsonists in Kennewick report to prison

By Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldOctober 20, 2012 

KENNEWICK, Wash. -- A mother and daughter who've been free since a jury convicted them more than 2 1/2 years ago of setting fire to their Kennewick mobile home are on their way to prison after turning themselves in Friday morning.

Leysa Lynn Sweany and her daughter, Leah Lynn Sweany, had been given a Friday report date by a Benton County Superior Court judge.

That came three months after the Washington state Supreme Court rejected their appeals, finding there was enough evidence that the family's home was worth at least $10,000 when it went up in flames in January 2009.

The women had been accused of intentionally starting the fire to collect insurance money.

Leysa Sweany, 51, was booked into the Benton County jail at 8:26 a.m., according to jail officials. Leah Sweany, 25, was processed in at 8:30 a.m.

The two women will be transported to a state prison, where Leysa Sweany will serve a two-year sentence and Leah Sweany must do one year and nine months.

They'd been free since early 2010 when each posted a $10,000 appeal bond, which allowed the women to put off doing their prison time while fighting the convictions.

The pair maintained their innocence, even after a Superior Court jury took less than 15 minutes to convict them of first-degree arson.

Police and court documents show that the fire at the North Steptoe Street home was started on a stovetop, and the knob for the burner was found turned on high with "combustibles" on or near the stove.

The women were being evicted and had been ordered to move their trailer from the park, the Santiago Estates manager told investigators. They were to leave by Dec. 31, 2008.

A week after the deadline, they loaded some items into their car and were gone when a neighbor reported the fire to 911, documents said.

Investigators found two smoke detectors had been taken down from the walls and the batteries removed. Also, the family dogs either were put outside or taken to a neighbor's home before the blaze.

Fire investigators became suspicious after learning that a $47,000 insurance policy had been taken out on the home shortly before the fire.

Leysa Sweany reportedly filed a claim for more than $10,000 after the Jan. 7, 2009, fire.

When Leysa and Leah Sweany's convictions were upheld by the state Court of Appeals, they petitioned the Supreme Court, and ultimately all nine justices considered arguments from the women that prosecutors failed to show that the affected property was valued at $10,000 or more.

The justices found that a rational jurors could have reviewed the facts of the case and found that the state had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the property's market value was more than $10,000.

Superior Court clerks on Sept. 6 received official orders from the Supreme Court that the appeals were over for the mother and daughter, and it was time for a judge to impose the sentences.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service