A judge will decide a Lake Township man's mental health placement in an arson case.

CANTON  A man who set fire to a Marlboro Township church and shot at numerous buildings in 2017 has been found not guilty after a judge ruled he's mentally unfit to face the charges against him.

Richard D. Rhodes, 50, of Lake Township, had entered a not guilty by reason of insanity plea and asked Stark County Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath to decide his fate instead of a jury.

At a trial Monday, Heath concluded that Rhodes was not sane when he set the church fire. The fire was tied to five criminal charges, including aggravated arson, a first-degree felony, as well as desecration and breaking and entering.

The judge's decision followed testimony from the Marlboro Township fire chief and the introduction of exhibits, including Rhodes' mental health evaluation.

Stark County Assistant Prosecutor Joe Vance, however, didn't present witnesses or evidence at Monday's trial related to numerous other charges tied to a rash of vandalism incidents, including shooting out windows at Hartville Hardware. As a result, and at the request of the defense, Heath dismissed those other charges.

Dismissing the counts wasn't meant to diminish the impact on those victims, Vance said following the trial. The insanity defense is intended for cases such as Rhodes, the assistant prosecutor said.

When a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the individual only can be sentenced on the most serious charge, Vance said. In this case, Rhodes faced three to 11 years in prison on an aggravated arson charge.

Vance said he had been in contact with victims in the case, explaining how a criminal case differs when it involves a plea and an insanity defense.

Rhodes, however, does not face prison. He's been undergoing counseling and taking medication at Heartland Behavioral Healthcare Hospital in Massillon.

Gunshots and spray paint

In all, Rhodes faced more than 20 charges, including vandalism and criminal damaging or endangering. The counts included both lower-level felonies and misdemeanors.

Some of the charges stemmed from an Aug. 27, 2017 fire at St. Nikolai Orthodox Church north of Louisville. Extensive damage was caused to the sanctuary, although the fire didn't spread to other parts of the church.

Rhodes was accused of using a chain saw to cut down a crucifix at St. Nicholas Romanian Orthodox Church. He also was suspected of shooting at Hartville Hardware's windows as well as firing several gunshots at a vehicle at the Ohio Highway Patrol post in Jackson Township.

Investigators had said that Rhodes was believed to be linked to shots fired at Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles sites in Plain Township, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls. Other targets of Rhodes' gunfire included windows at the DeHoff Realty building in North Canton, investigators said.

On Aug. 27, 2017, at St. Paul's Catholic Church in North Canton, the defendant spray-painted "Satan" on a sign and destroyed a banner, according to the county prosecutor's office.

December hearing

Brad Iams, Rhodes' attorney, said his client had admitted to all of the allegations and offenses when questioned by an investigator. Rhodes also acknowledged his actions during his evaluation at Heartland Behavioral, a secure mental health facility.

Iams said mental illness led to Rhodes' actions, directed by religious-inspired voices in his head.

On Dec. 3, Heath will hear the testimony of a mental health professional from Heartland Behavioral. The Heartland employee will recommend placing Rhodes in the least restrictive setting consistent with public safety and Rhodes' treatment needs, Iams said.

Iams said he expects his client to remain at Heartland following next month's hearing.

Heath ultimately will determine the placement. She will have jurisdiction over Rhodes for 11 years, Iams said.

Reach Ed at 330-580-8315 and ed.balint@cantonrep.com

On Twitter @ebalintREP