Victim in arson, domestic violence case unhappy with plea deal

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- A plea deal has been reached in the case of a Valley man who admitted to setting fire to the home of his estranged wife, and the victim in the case tells 3TV she feels victimized once again.

Back in February, Gary Noel admitted to the crime, telling 3TV cameras: “She deserved it.”

“I broke into her house, burned her house down,” Noel said during a jailhouse interview. “She left me with nothing; I want to leave her with nothing.”

Noel was indicted in March on eight different counts, including arson, cruelty to animals, endangerment and aggravated domestic violence.

The crimes were committed in violation of a restraining order filed following a prior incident.

Noel’s estranged wife, Patricia Schooley, now lives out of state, in fear for her life.

“I haven’t really gone out in public too much,” Schooley told 3TV by phone.

Schooley said she has proof of a history of threats and abuse, which is why she wanted her ex to go to trial and face the maximum possible penalty, an issue she discussed with the prosecutor.

“He promised me,” said Schooley of the deputy county attorney on the case. “His exact words were, 'Patti, I promise you, we won’t plead him out this time.'”

However, earlier this month that changed, when Noel accepted a plea deal on the first two counts, arson and burglary. The remaining six were dismissed.

Schooley said she was notified of the offer, as required by the Arizona Victims’ Bill of Rights. 

“I said, ‘No just, no, but hell no,” Schooley recalled telling the prosecutor.

However, while a victim gets to weigh in, the County Attorney’s Office ultimately decides how a case will proceed.

“Almost all cases in the criminal justice system get resolved through some negotiated plea,” said Craig Gillespie, a criminal law specialist, who is not involved in this case.

“If the county attorney believes they’re going to be getting approximately the same type of sentence that the defendant might receive after going through a long and drawn-out trial, it might be in the interest of justice to solve it through a negotiated plea,” Gillespie said.

The County Attorney’s Office said the maximum sentence Noel’s case would likely have been 15 years, since the sentences for the various crimes would have probably run concurrently since they stemmed from the same incident.

Regarding the plea deal, the County Attorney’s Office issued this statement:

“We believe a 10 to 12-year prison sentence followed by a 3 to 7-year probation term represents a just result that holds this defendant accountable for his actions and eliminates the possibility of a shorter sentence – or none at all – had the case proceeded to a jury trial.”

“That’s baloney when you have a man confessing to police officers, coming out of the house on all the news stations, saying that he did it,” Schooley said. “Shame on them.”

“In 12 years, I’ll be in the same position that I’m standing in here today, not sleeping at night, and being very careful that he doesn’t find me again,” Schooley said.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for next month.