Ellis Library arsonist convicted

Kelley also started a fire at Stephens College and stole a computer.

A jury convicted a Columbia man of arson Wednesday in relation to fires he set at Ellis Library and Stephens College in 2011.

Christopher C. Kelley, 27, was found guilty on two federal counts of arson after a two-hour jury deliberation, according to courtroom minutes. He faces a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in federal prison without parole for each count and up to 40 years in federal prison without parole and a fine up to $500,000.

Kelley pleaded not guilty to both counts of arson, although his public defender wrote in court documents that he admitted being at the scene of the fires.

“In this case, despite Mr. Kelley's assertion that he did not start the fires, there is no question of Mr. Kelley's identity on scene,” Kelly's attorney Troy Stabenow said. “He is clearly shown on multiple video tapes, he confessed to friends his presence at both crime scenes, evidence from the crime scenes was found in his possession, etc.”

At approximately 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 10, 2011, Kelley set 10 fires inside Ellis Library, police said. Kelley also shattered computer monitors, broke windows and destroyed two security cameras. Responders also found feces and urine on top of a study desk.

The fires triggered Ellis' automatic fire alarms and sprinkler system. Firefighters extinguished the flames, but Ellis and the State Historical Society of Missouri sustained moderate smoke and water damage and were closed for two days, according to the MU News Bureau.

The damage, which was contained to the photocopy services room and interlibrary loan/reserve office on the north side of the library, cost Ellis between $750,000 and $1 million, according to the U.S. District Attorney's office. No books were destroyed, and no one was injured in the blaze, although the State Historical Society of Missouri lost some duplicate rolls of microfilm.

“It's unfortunate that the actions of one individual had such a large impact, but we're very happy that no one was injured and that the damage was contained to a small portion of the building,” Director of MU Libraries Jim Cogswell said in 2011.

Between one fire and a broken monitor, Kelley left a note reading, “Welcome the bunghole, we've got fun and games.” Police later discovered that Kelley had “exceptionally unusual” handwriting that matched the writing on the note.

The MU Police Department released security camera images of Kelley and issued a Clery release asking students to help identify him. According to the district attorney's office, MUPD received several calls identifying Kelley before Kelley turned himself in at about noon on Sept. 10.

Kelley was also convicted of setting a fire in a classroom at the Audrey Webb Child Study Center at Stephens College in May 2011. After searching Kelley's home during the Ellis Library investigation, law enforcement officials found a Mac Mini that matched the serial number of one stolen from Stephens College.

A date for Kelley's sentencing has not yet been set.

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