Judge recommends dismissal of appeal by man who pleaded guilty to setting fire to nuclear sub

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FILE - In this Wednesday, May 23, 2012 file photo, smoke rises from a dry dock as fire crews respond to a fire on the USS Miami submarine (SSN 755) at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on an island, in Kittery, Maine. Casey Fury, who is serving 17 years in prison for the fire, says he made a false confession under the threat of a life sentence. He says his confession was false and coerced and wants to ask a judge to reconsider his sentence. The fire caused $700 million in damage and the attack submarine was ultimately scrapped. (AP Photo/The Herald, Ionna Raptis, File)

PORTLAND, Maine — A former shipyard worker who pleaded guilty to setting fire to a nuclear-powered submarine but now says he didn't commit the crime wants a judge to revisit his sentence based on his claim that his lawyer was ineffective.

Casey James Fury has until June 5 to respond after a federal magistrate recommended that his claim of ineffective counsel be denied.

Fury, who's serving a 17-year prison sentence, told the Portsmouth Herald that he believes his confession was coerced and that he doesn't remember setting the fire that severely damaged the USS Miami while it was undergoing overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

He said he wants a judge to reconsider his sentence based on claims including substance abuse, mental health problems and evidence that he contends weren't adequately addressed by his lawyer.

But claims of ineffective counsel are rarely successful, observers say, and Fury's lawyer was the chief federal defender for the district.

"Perhaps the defendant would have a better chance of winning the lottery," said Michael Cunniff, a lawyer for 16 years and a former Drug Enforcement Agency investigator, noting that cases are handled carefully.

Prosecutors disagreed with Fury's claims of ineffective counsel. They also contend there's no doubt about who set the fire in May 2012.

Prosecutors said the shipyard worker was suffering from anxiety and set the fire because he wanted to go home. In addition to confessing, Fury described in detail his actions to investigators during walk-throughs that were videotaped aboard the USS Miami and a similar submarine.

"This office believes that there is no merit to Mr. Fury's recent claims," Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark said Monday in a statement.

David Beneman, Fury's court-appointed attorney, declined comment.

The fire started in a forward compartment and turned into an inferno that required 12 hours and more than 100 firefighters to douse.

Seven people were hurt and damage was so extensive that the Navy ultimately decided to scrap the submarine.

Fury, 27, is serving his sentence at a federal prison in New Jersey after pleading guilty to setting two fires aboard the submarine.

He told the newspaper he didn't remember reporting to work on the day of the big fire but acknowledged setting a smaller fire that caused superficial damage outside the submarine about two weeks later. He also acknowledged pulling a fire alarm three days after the second fire.

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