JEFFERSON — A former Watertown man has been ordered to serve 16 years in prison and 20 years on extended supervision after being convicted in August on one count each of burglary and arson for blowing up the southside Watertown home of a former girlfriend.
Craig S. Lillge, 40, whose most recent address was the Jefferson County Jail and before that, the state House of Corrections at Oshkosh, appeared before by a Jefferson County Circuit Court Branch II Judge William Hue Friday for sentencing. He had been on extended supervision for a Waukesha County-based charge of stalking causing injury at the time of his Jefferson County sentencing.
Almost half the gallery in the courtroom Friday was occupied by friends and family of the victim, Katrina Harland.
The arson conviction follows the 2014 explosion and fire that demolished Harland’s Watertown home on River Drive.
According to the criminal complaint in the matter, Lillge, formerly of Watertown, burglarized the home of his ex-girlfriend in Watertown and activated a gas valve, leading to the structure’s explosion and subsequent fire. The house was a total loss and remains dilapidated today.
It was reported on Dec, 22, 2014, the period in which the explosion and fire took place, that Watertown firefighters responded to 1118 River Drive for a reported explosion and subsequent fire.
Watertown’s then-Fire Chief Greg Michalek said when firefighters arrived, the back of the house had been blown out. Firefighters could not enter the building initially, due to structural concerns. The fire caused the roof to collapse. There was nobody in the house at the time of the explosion.
Jesse Fremont was the property owner and Harland, Lillge’s ex-girlfriend, lived in the rented house with her children.
Five fire departments from surrounding areas were summoned to the blaze. Michalek also said there was one injury when a firefighter twisted a knee during the operation, but it was not serious.
The state fire marshal’s office, state Division of Criminal Investigation and Watertown police and fire departments investigated the cause of the blaze, and that is when evidence against Lillge began to stack up.
A special prosecutor from Waukesha County handled the case in Jefferson County after Lillge’s conviction in November of 2017 in Waukesha County on a charge of stalking Harland resulting in bodily harm. Those offenses occurred between Feb. 14, 2014, and April of 2016 at various places in Jefferson and Waukesha counties.
Prior to his conviction on the Jefferson County charges, Lillge had been on extended supervision after serving a sentence of three years' initial confinement and three years on extended supervision following conviction in the Waukesha County case.
At his court trial in front of Hue, which concluded Aug. 1, Lillge was convicted on one count each of burglary of a dwelling and arson of a building. Hue found him not guilty on one count of stalking resulting in bodily harm.
During Friday’s sentencing, Lillge declined to speak; however, the teenage daughter of Harland did tell the judge of the havoc the incident wreaked on her family.
She spoke of the extensive loss of family heirlooms, including a cherished wedding ring and paintings a late family member had made. She said she was disappointed in Lillge because he was the second father figure she had lost in her life. She also said she already had depression from moving around a lot as a child and had found hope in her new home on River Drive.
The teen said Lillge’s violent actions caused her to sink back into feelings of sadness, which she said she addressed by self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana.
“We had a home and I watched it burn,” she said. “Craig Lillge terrorized our family’s lives for years.”
Prosecturors said Lillge not only blew up Harland’s house, but is a living example of a cold, choreographed and ongoing danger to society. They said Lillge created a situation of danger to the entire neighborhood and firefighters with his actions.
In addition, they said Lillge has shown no remorse, called the incident a situation of “Russian Roulette” and recommended 20 years' initial confinement in prison and 10 years on extended supervision, along with payment of restitution and no-contact provisions. The maximum that Lillge could have faced was 32 1/2 years in prison with 20 years on extended supervision.
Saying that perpetrators of crimes such as Lillge’s never receive a maximum sentence, defense attorney Jeff De La Rosa of the state Public Defender's Office told Hue his client should be ordered to 10 years in prison.
De La Rosa said there was only property damage and no injuries as a result of the incident. He presented these as mitigating factors, along with the fact that friends and co-workers have said Lillge was a reliable and trustworthy person, as well as a hard worker.
“There was no one home at the time of the incident,” De La Rosa said. “Mr. Lillge is more than these allegations. He’s a son and a co-worker. He’s hard-working and trusted. The court needs to consider what needs to be done at a minimal level.”
De La Rosa said Lillge needs to be allowed to make the most of his current prime earning years, so he can have a future, while paying restitution for his crimes.
In issuing the sentence, Judge Hue said Lillge needs substantial time in prison, in part, because he is a dangerous domestic abuser.
“He entered the house to destroy it,” Hue said. “This was a violent and dangerous act.”
On the single count of burglary, Hue ordered Lillge to serve 11 years with six years' initial confinement in prison and five years on extended supervision.
On the single count of Arson, Lillge was directed by the judge to serve 25 years in the state prison system with 10 years' initial confinement and 15 years on extended supervision.
These sentences are to be served consecutively.