NEW: Man interrupts arson trial to make surprise guilty plea

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Gregory Dies

A homeless man who tried to burn down his father’s house while the older man was hiding inside halted his trial in Knox County Criminal Court by abruptly pleading guilty Monday. 

Gregory Joseph Dies, 39, entered the guilty plea to aggravated arson and was promptly sentenced to 15 years in prison without the possibility of parole by Judge Scott Green.

His trial began Monday morning with jury selection, and as prosecutors began presenting evidence Dies asked the Court to allow him to plead guilty. 

Other than the arson charge, Dies apparently has no criminal record in Knox County other than minor traffic offenses, court records show. The court system gives his current address as “homeless.”

The incident took place in the evening of June 26, 2020, when Dies’ father noticed a strange car parked in his driveway at 3126 Cunningham Road in North Knox County. He walked outside and saw his son pouring gasoline from a red plastic container onto his front porch. 

“His son then started swearing at him and told him he was going to burn his house down,” according to a report filed by Officer Aaron Allen of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. “The victim went back inside the house and locked the door in fear of his safety, and called 911 for assistance. When he was on the phone, he heard a ‘Woosh’ sound and saw fire outside on the porch.”

Crews from Rural Metro Fire Department managed to extinguish the blaze, but not before it had damaged the vinyl siding, eaves, and area around the front door, Allen reported. 

No one was injured except for Dies, who suffered burns while setting the fire and had to be treated at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, records show.  

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Joanie Stewart and Nate Ogle while Dies was represented by attorney Rhonda Lee, said Knox County DA’s spokesperson Sean McDermott.

Published on December 8, 2021.