2 plead guilty in 'flamethrower' incident

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The two men accused of setting a 5-year-old boy's head on fire with a "redneck flamethrower" in Anchor Point last year pleaded guilty in superior court last week.

Jonathon M. Miller, 29, pleaded guilty March 18 to one count of assault in the third degree. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on May 26 in Homer.

Stephen R. Dilley, 32, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors, reckless endangerment and violating a restraining order, and will serve two years in jail, according to District Attorney Lance Joanis.

"Dilley was not the trigger man. He was the idea man," Joanis said. "He didn't do the deed."

On Nov. 16, Alaska Highway Patrolman Ryan Browning was notified that a 5-year-old student at Chapman Elementary School in Anchor Point had come to school with burns on his face and head.

The boy told Browning that Jonathon Miller, the boy's mother's current boyfriend, and Miller's friend "Steve-O" (Dilley) were watching him on Nov. 13.

Dilley stated he and Miller were at the house, smoking on the porch, when they came inside to grab a compressed can of starter fluid.

Dilley said, "You know what would be funny?" and handed the can to Miller. Miller said "do you know how much trouble I could get in for this?" right before calling the boy, according to Browning's affidavit.

When the boy emerged from his bedroom, Miller lit the spray with a lighter pointed at the boy. The flame lasted less than a second, but the boy's head was still on fire.

The men ran to the boy, patted out the flames with their hands and then tended to the burns. They did not take the boy immediately to the hospital.

Miller said he did not mean to hurt the boy. He was trying toughen the boy up and the best way to do that is to "scare the (expletive) out of them when they don't see it coming," according to Browning's affidavit.

The boy said he did not know how the incident happened and did not know what caused the injuries on his face. He called it a "practical joke gone wrong."

"What kind of 5-year-old talks like that? You immediately start thinking there's some coaching going on," Browning told the Clarion.

When Browning saw the boy on Nov. 16, he saw burn marks on the boy's face that spanned from the bridge of the boy's nose to the left earlobe. Browning's affidavit also states that some of the boy's hair was singed.

"The inside of his nose looked like cracked leather," Browning said. "He had a half-dollar sized blister on his left temple and he said when his picks his nose, his skin bleeds."

The boy's mother, Belinda Russell, did not learn about her son's injuries until about 3:30 on Nov. 16 after she got out of the South Peninsula Emergency Room, where she had been treated for overdosing on medications.

Russell had demanded Dilley not come within 500 feet of the home. Russell and Dilley were divorced on Jan. 16, 2009, court records show.

Russell said she did not initially know how her son was hurt. She said Miller said the burns came from an accident with a burn barrel, according to Browning's affidavit.

She did not take her son to the emergency room because she did not think the injuries were severe.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.

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