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Rural Shelton church arson suspect ruled not responsible

A judge ruled Mathew Poehler not responsible for the burning of a rural Buffalo County church...
A judge ruled Mathew Poehler not responsible for the burning of a rural Buffalo County church in December 2019.(Buffalo County Detention Center)
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 4:53 PM CST
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - The man accused of burning down the Zion Lutheran church in rural Buffalo County just before Christmas was ruled not responsible by reason of insanity.

Mathew Poehler, 40, Shelton, was charged with felony Second Degree Arson. Investigators believe that diesel fuel which was linked to Poehler was poured into a bucket of flowers and then ignited with a lighter. The December 11, 2019 fire destroyed the church.

Poehler’s mental fitness was challenged and examined in numerous evaluations and court hearings in the months that followed. Poehler’s attorney filed a formal plea of not responsible by reason of insanity in September of last year.

His trial took place Feb. 1 before Buffalo County District Judge John Marsh. During the trial, Poehler’s attorney introduced a study done by Omaha psychiatrist Dr. Terry Davis. Davis diagnosed Poehler with bipolar schizoaffective disorder. Davis said that at the time of fire, Poehler was in “such a severely psychotic state of mind that he was not capable of forming the necessary criminal intent to commit arson.”

Davis also wrote that Poehler “was experiencing such a severe exacerbation of his schizoaffective disorder that he did not know or understand the nature and consequences of his actions in burning the church and did not know the difference between right and wrong.”

On Thursday, Judge Marsh ruled in favor of the insanity plea and ordered a future court hearing to determine whether “the defendant is dangerous to himself or others by reason of mental illness or defect” and whether Poehler would be dangerous in the future.

Pending that hearing, Poehler is free on bond.

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