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Whitworth pleads guilty to arson and burglary

Press Photos by Ashley Martin Electrician John Deavy of Berger Electric installs electrical wiring in the Church of Christ Tuesday afternoon.

A 21-year-old Dickinson man pleaded guilty to arson and burglary in connection to an incident that gutted the Church of Christ in December during a hearing at the Stark County Courthouse on Tuesday.

Joshua Whitworth's pleas were part of a proposed plea agreement, which could put him behind bars for six years.

Judge Zane Anderson ordered a presentence investigation.

Attorney Jay Greenwood said Whitworth was "pretty out of his mind doing numerous controlled substances," when the incident occurred.

Greenwood said Whitworth broke a safe in the church and Stark County Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Ehlis said $131 was taken.

"The children of the church had been donating their dollar bills," Ehlis said.

Greenwood said Whitworth told police he ignited the fire in a trash can in an office.

"When asked how or why he started a fire he said that he was doing it to destroy the evidence," Greenwood said. "He didn't necessarily say he was doing it to destroy the entire structure."

Officers found a stove in the church had been turned on and the thermostat had been "adjusted," he added.

"The thermostat had been hotwired," Ehlis said, adding it made the furnace run continuously.

If Anderson accepts the agreement after the investigation, Whitworth will be sentenced to 10 years in prison with four years suspended for five years for arson.

Whitworth would also be sentenced to five years in prison for burglary, with the sentences running concurrently. He would receive credit for time served.

Whitworth would also have to pay $1,000 for the insurance deductible for the church as well as court fees.

If Anderson accepts the plea agreement after the investigation is complete, charges of theft of property and corruption of a minor will be


If the presentence investigation leads Anderson to reject the plea agreement, Whitworth will be able to withdraw his guilty plea, Anderson said.

Church members have remained optimistic in the face of losing their place of worship, said Dean Adams, a preacher and member of the church.

"We just would like to see him get turned around on the right path and hopefully this will be a way where he can get some help," Adams said.

The roof of the church has been replaced and crews are working on wiring the building for electricity, he added.

Church services have been held at a different location and Adams says he hopes to be back in by the middle of August.

"We're looking forward to it," he said. "It will be here before you know it, so we're feeling good about it."