BROOKSVILLE – Judge Stephen Toner signed off on a plea agreement Friday morning that will send Joseph Michael Brannen to prison for eight years for setting the East Hernando Branch Library on fire last summer.
Brannen, 18, later admitted to sheriff’s detectives he set the blaze at 6457 Windmere Road, and returned to the scene wearing fire gear in hopes of helping firefighters extinguish it.
Assistant Public Defender David Bauer said Brannen has a history of significant mental health issues, but that he was found competent to proceed in court. Insanity was not an applicable defense, Bauer said, but asked Toner to recommend Brannen be housed in a Department of Corrections mental health facility, which he did.
Brannen pleaded no contest and was adjudicated guilty of the second-degree arson charge. In addition to the prison sentence, he will need to pay $590,000 restitution to Travelers Insurance, $25,000 to the Hernando County Library, more than $1,000 in court costs, $100 to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution costs and about $400 to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office for investigation costs.
Brannen was facing up to 15 years in prison for the second-degree arson charge.
Hernando Today previously reported Brannen was developed as a suspect after he arrived at the library around 2 a.m. on July 6, just minutes after law enforcement, dressed in fire gear.
Brannen said he heard the call go out over his police scanner, and said he suited up in bunker gear he bought on eBay.
Brannen told a bystander, Michael Maytas, that he was going to school to be a firefighter, and sheriff’s detectives later found the defendant’s Facebook page listed him as employed by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, and photos of him in firefighting gear. Both claims were found to be untrue.
On the scene, a deputy told him he could not help battle the fire, and took him home.
Brannen was interviewed and arrested about two weeks after the fire.
He has 232 days time served, according to the judge.
The library had about 18,000 items in the library last July, and a new section of books and magazines were destroyed.
The rest of the collection received smoke and water damage from the fire and sprinkler system, and were later cleaned and restored, according to Cristi Charlow, risk management coordinator for Hernando County.
The library has not reopened. A temporary location was recently approved for the Ridge Manor Community Center at 34240 Cortez Blvd.