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Man innocent of arson due to insanity

June 05, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Hedgesville man, charged with arson, was found innocent due to insanity Wednesday in the burning of a house where he was living, court officials said.

Banner Cornell Catlett, 21, is also charged with murder in the unrelated slaying of a church volunteer.

Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Steptoe committed Catlett to 20 years in a state mental hospital, according to Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

But Steptoe ordered Catlett to be held in the Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg until his murder trial on June 17, Games-Neely said.

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Catlett has had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, and once was admitted to a mental hospital after he became psychotic and violent, according to court records.

In the arson trial, defense attorney Jerry Dambro said his client would exhibit "inexplicable behavior," such as staying in the woods naked and talking about satellites he was trying to communicate with.

Catlett was indicted on a charge of first-degree arson following a September 1995 fire at a house along Sawmill Road near Hedgesville where he was living, according to officials and court records. Catlett set fire to the home by squirting lighter fluid on the floor and lighting it, said Games-Neely.

Dambro told the jury earlier in the week there was no motive for the fire because Catlett is a "very sick young man, mentally ill."

Dambro said the jury could find that Catlett's illness prevented him from understanding that his acts were wrong.

On Feb. 4, Catlett was charged with murder in the shooting death of Andrew Mason, a Hegesville Assembly of God volunteer who had tried to help Catlett cope with his personal problems, according to court records and friends of Mason's.

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