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Accused arsonist denied unconditional release from supervision

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Lady Justice

A woman who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to first-degree arson in 2018 was denied unconditional release Monday from the Department of Corrections.

Cheryl D. Freiberg, 55, was ordered to conditional release on Feb. 25, 2019, after her plea in connection with setting her four-plex home ablaze on Dec. 2, 2016.

Freiberg’s attorney, William McCool, argued she had no criminal history before the incident and only showed “very serious symptoms of a psychotic break” for a couple of weeks afterward while in two mental health facilities in Yakima.

He also said she hadn’t been charged in the case until September 2017, almost a year after the fire, and wasn’t on supervision until early 2019.

That order included an indeterminate period of community supervision and a report by the DOC to the court at least every six months.

In court Monday, McCool said the supervision was slated to last her lifetime, which seemed severe given her compliance with DOC and no other issues since the incident.

Two people, however, stated concerns over Freiberg’s possible release including a woman who shared the four-plex during the blaze, who wrote a letter to the court, and another woman who appeared in court Monday.

Walla Walla County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Mulhern asked Judge John Lohrmann to maintain Freiberg’s supervision for a few more years, as no one seemed certain what caused her “psychotic break.”

She also said Freiberg had first blamed possible monoxide poisoning, but no one else in the apartment building reported any symptoms.

“There doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement on her insight into the fact she had a mental illness,” Mulhern said, adding the fire could have killed someone, as four of the five residents were home.

As it was, people were injured, including Freiberg, who suffered from smoke inhalation, and financial losses were up to $15,750.

Freiberg allegedly told friends two weeks before the fire that her house would burn down, according to the investigation documents. After the fire, she made statements to several people indicating that “God told her to start the fire,” according to a police statement.

She reportedly told friends while she was in the hospital with injuries from the fire that she ignited paper and dropped it on the floor and couch before leaving the room.

In the end, Lohrmann on Monday decided to keep Freiberg on supervision, denying her motion without prejudice so it could be resubmitted.

“We’re not talking about retribution,” he said. “We’re talking about community custody … I think it’s (the motion) a little premature yet.”

Freiberg apologized for her actions.

“I am absolutely mortified this (fire) happened,” she said. “It has never been in my heart or head to have this happen … I have nothing but remorse for this.”

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.