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Career criminal gets prison for burning mom's home

A career criminal who burned his elderly mother's home and caused her to lose ownership of the house has been sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Jeffery Lynn Kenton, 54, pleaded no contest Thursday to first-degree arson and was sentenced to five years and one month in prison. A no-contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea. Separate burglary and identity theft cases were dismissed in a plea agreement.

On Jan. 9, 2015, Kenton set a fire at the Talent house of his mother, Lola Powell, that caused more than $50,000 worth of damage, according to testimony in Jackson County Circuit Court during his plea and sentencing hearing.

Because a family member set the fire, Powell's insurance company refused to cover the damages. She had to move out of her house and into the home of her other son.

"I had to turn the house back to the bank," Powell said. "The insurance company won't cover the fire and I don't have the money to repair it."

Kenton, who occasionally stayed at his mother's house, likely set the fire in hopes of getting an insurance payout to cover his possessions at the home, said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Nick Geil.

"That's the real tragedy of this case. She lost her home," Geil said. "I feel terrible for Lola Powell. She's been horribly victimized by her son."

A police investigation revealed Kenton told another woman how he had set the fire at his mother's house.

"He indicated to her the fire he set was set in the downstairs bathroom and made to look like his mother started the fire by leaving her curling iron on," a probable cause affidavit said.

The woman said before starting the fire, Kenton removed his mother's jewelry box from the house and sold her jewelry on the street for about $1,500. The woman said Kenton advised her to take out a renter's insurance policy, then set a fire in the same way so she could get money for her burned belongings.

During his sentencing, Kenton was ordered by Jackson County Circuit Judge David Hoppe to pay restitution for the arson as well as for the burglary and identity theft.

"I would be lucky to ever get a dime," Powell said. "I don't expect anything."

Geil said many people who wind up in court have addiction or mental health problems, but Kenton is among those who are criminally minded.

"He has a very long history of involvement with the criminal justice system," Geil said.

In 1984, Kenton was convicted of first-degree manslaughter after he crashed his pickup truck, killing a passenger.

In 2000, he was convicted of racketeering for scamming elderly homeowners by taking their money and promising to finish projects around their homes.

In 2009, he was again under investigation for defrauding customers of his vehicle upholstery business. Police fielded numerous complaints that Kenton didn't complete jobs and demanded large payments from upset customers who wanted to retrieve their vehicles, including boats and RVs.

Other convictions dating from 2011 to 2015 include harassment, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, second-degree theft and failure to perform the duties of a driver for crashing into a Black Bear Diner outbuilding and fleeing the scene. 

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Jeffery Kenton