John Thiry, the Ashland homeless man suspected of starting the Oak Knoll fire that burned 11 houses last summer, has been sentenced to eight months in jail for throwing rocks and threatening two middle-school girls who were walking to school.

John Thiry, the Ashland homeless man suspected of starting the Oak Knoll fire that burned 11 houses last summer, has been sentenced to eight months in jail for throwing rocks and threatening two middle-school girls who were walking to school.

At the end of a two-hour bench trial Thursday morning, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Gerking found Thiry, 41, guilty of two counts of menacing and one count each of harassment and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanor charges.

"The evidence is Mr. Thiry was moving toward the victims, throwing rocks at them and stating he was going to kill them," Gerking said.

"That's a lie," a disheveled and agitated Thiry said to his defense attorney, John Hamilton, while waving his hand at the judge.

Gerking sentenced Thiry to two consecutive four-month sentences for the menacing charges and two 30-day concurrent sentences for the other two charges. Thiry also was placed on 18 months' post-prison supervision and ordered to have no contact with the girls or their school. Gerking ordered Thiry begin serving his sentence immediately. He was escorted from the courtroom by sheriff's deputies.

Minutes earlier both girls, ages 12 and 13, had testified Thiry was wandering on the railroad tracks, muttering to himself and throwing rocks at the railroad tracks as they were walking along the city's bike path near Clay Street at 7:30 a.m. May 10. Thiry approached them, began harassing them and then started throwing rocks at them as they ran away.

"He was saying, 'I'm gonna kill you,' " one of the girls said, adding she was struck twice, once in the back and once in the back of the head, before Thiry stopped the chase.

She and her friend continued to run another mile, all the way to Ashland Middle School, she said.

"I was still scared," the girl said. "I was looking out the windows."

When the girls got to school, they reported the incident and the police were called. The girl who was struck by the rocks had a lump on her head and a red mark on her back, she said.

Thiry did not testify at his trial. Police said Thiry told them he didn't recall throwing rocks at the girls, but admitted he did throw rocks at the railroad tracks that day.

The incident occurred not far from where investigators say Thiry ignited a grass fire in August 2010 that spread across Interstate 5 to the Oak Knoll neighborhood, causing Ashland's worst residential fire in at least a century.

Thiry was charged with 10 counts of recklessly endangering another and 14 counts of reckless burning. In December, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia found Thiry not guilty of all charges.

Mejia said Thiry likely did start the fire, but prosecutors had not proven Thiry was aware of the risks, a condition necessary for him to be considered guilty of recklessness.

Hamilton argued during Thursday's trial that the girls had exaggerated the morning's events, perhaps because they had a predisposition to be fearful of Thiry because of his notoriety within the Ashland community.

Hamilton said there was no evidence the victim had been struck by a rock. But he acknowledged that seeing a rock-throwing, threat-hollering man would have been an "undeniably scary" experience for the girls. However, it did not constitute criminal activity, Hamilton said.

During the trial, Thiry repeatedly tried to interrupt Hamilton and gain the judge's attention by waving his hand.

"No, no, no," Thiry said to Hamilton. "You're supposed to testify for me."

During her closing arguments, county prosecutor Laura Cromwell listed Thiry's extensive arrest and conviction record for menacing, burglary and other crimes. Thiry has landed in jail at least three more times since his arrest in the Oak Knoll fire case. Police have arrested Thiry for throwing a traffic delineator rod from an overpass onto Interstate 5 and drinking beer in public, she said.

Cromwell acknowledged Thiry is mentally ill. But that doesn't mean he is not aware of, or responsible for, his actions, she said.

Cromwell asked Gerking to hand down two consecutive eight-month sentences. Because the charges are all misdemeanors, the state cannot mandate Thiry receive treatment, she added.

"We can't provide any help for him," Cromwell said. "We can only keep the public safe."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.