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Published: Wednesday, 7/20/2005

Ex-girlfriend's testimony convicts multiple arsonist

DEFIANCE - A spurned girlfriend's testimony helped convict a Defiance man of arson of the former Peking House restaurant here and alerted authorities to his alleged involvement in more fires as well as grand theft.

Robbie A. Steel, 30, was found guilty on two counts of arson yesterday by a Defiance County Common Pleas Court jury and faces up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine for setting fire to the Chinese restaurant and to a car last year. Steel is to be sentenced Aug. 30.

He faces two additional trials in the next three weeks.

On Aug. 1, he is to be tried on three counts of arson for three car fires in 2003. The following week, he is scheduled to be back in Defiance County Common Pleas Court to be tried on breaking and entering and grand theft of a motor vehicle last year.

His former girlfriend, Debra Schappert, told the jury that Steel, who ended their relationship and moved in with her daughter, admitted to her that he set fire to the restaurant and the car.

Steel and his court-appointed attorney presented no defense.

"It was his belief that Debra Schappert was not a credible person, and he hoped the jury would feel the same way," his attorney, John Shaffer, said.

The restaurant on North Clinton Street was considered a total loss after the fire, which was discovered early on the morning of June 10, 2004. According to the Defiance County Prosecutor's Office, Steel set fire to the restaurant because, after breaking in, he was angry that he couldn't find much that he wanted to steal.

Earlier the same day, Steel broke into a car on Kiser Road and set it on fire.

Steel, who has an extensive record - though most of his infractions are misdemeanors - remained last night in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, Stryker.

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