Basil Eleby is entering the Fulton County Accountability Courts -- avoiding a plea deal and jail time.
If the accused I-85 arsonist successfully completes the 18-month program, charges made against him will be dropped.
“I never thought I’d get to this point,” Eleby told reporters outside court. “To get another chance because there are so many people out there who didn’t get another chance.”
Eleby added, “So many people out there who are still where I was a couple of months ago – out in the cold and out in the rain, and they feel like they just don’t have no way out.
“Those people – they are human; most low people are just looking for a way out and they just need a chance. They just need people to believe in them.”
WSB senior legal analyst Ron Carlson says Fulton’s Accountability Courts slash recidivism as well as cost to taxpayers. “It’s basically a highly supervised probation program, which features treatment and rehabilitation,” Carlson explains.
He adds, “Our man Basil Eleby would seem to qualify for accountability court on two grounds: number one, crack was involved in this crime and number two, there are reports he has limited mental ability.”
Eleby got more restrictive addiction treatment after testing positive for drugs or alcohol twice since April.
Atlanta police say Eleby set fire to a shopping cart underneath I-85 last spring. The blaze eventually spread to construction material the Georgia Department of Transportation stored under the bridge and caused a chunk of the busy highway to collapse.
The highway reopened six weeks later, ahead of schedule, and Eleby was charged with arson.
An arson conviction for Eleby could have resulted in a severe felony sentence, but Carlson says prosecutors would have had an uphill battle proving it.
“That charge requires – under Georgia law – number one, the suspect intentionally set the fire; there were witnesses to that,” Carlson explains. “However, number two, [that] when he did so, he realized the blaze would endanger human life.
“With his reported mentality of about a 15-year-old, that mental element of the charge might have been difficult for the state to prove.”
Before his arrest, Eleby had been homeless for about 10 years. Outside court Friday, Eleby told reporters of his hopes and dreams going forward. “I want to live and I’m going to keep pushing forward. I wanna start my own mobile detail business, or get into computers; I like computers.
“And I like cleaning stuff; taking something that looks dead and making it look alive again.
Eleby concluded his remarks by saying, “At first I couldn’t see the blessings I was getting out of this, but through all this crazy stuff happening and through all this time, God just took it and turned it around and gave me what I was asking for in the first place – to stay sober and to get a new way of life.”