Kathy Fury, 62, talks through tears about her relationship with her son, Casey Fury, who is now serving a 17-year sentence in federal prison for arson for setting fires that badly damaged a nuclear submarine at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — While her son serves a prison sentence for burning a nuclear submarine, Kathy Fury reminisces, regrets and battles the anxiety that comes with having a child incarcerated for 17 years.

Her son, Casey Fury, is serving the 17-year prison sentence for lighting a fire that totaled the USS Miami at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery on May 23, 2012. He’s court ordered to pay $400 million in restitution for the fire that burned for 12 hours. Firefighters responded from 24 different departments and five of them were injured, according to federal court records.

“I have to make sure I’m here for him” when he’s released, said Kathy Fury, 62. “My number one goal is to be here, alive and healthy, when he gets out.”

She monitors his well being, explores possible legal appeals and stays healthy so she’ll be well at her Portsmouth home when he’s released, she explained.

“It’s my life 24-7,” she said. “I can feel him at certain times of the day.”

Now 30 years old, Casey Fury is serving his sentence in Fort Dix, New Jersey, and is scheduled to be released Aug. 4, 2027. In a telephone interview with the Portsmouth Herald three years ago, Casey said he was pressured by a public defender to plead guilty to arson, was on multiple prescription drugs during that time and if he lit the submarine on fire, he doesn’t remember doing it.

Force to be reckoned with

Kathy said her son Casey was “a planned baby,” one of two sons. A 23-year resident of the Spinnaker Point neighborhood, she said both boys had good childhoods in Portsmouth.

Bright blonde as a boy, Casey was “a little towhead,” his mother said, while showing framed photos of him in 1998 when he was part of the Dondero School Odyssey of the Mind, at his 2006 Portsmouth High School graduation, and later hugging a cat.

“He’s such sweet young man,” she said, explaining her son was taught the lost art of opening doors for women.

When Casey started working as a painter at the shipyard, his mother said, he “was happy and making money.” About a year into it, she said, “he was a mess.”

She said because he was small, Casey was assigned to crawl into small spaces to paint inside the submarine. She said he was hospitalized for vertigo and diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks, so he never should have been working in the submarine in the first place.

A physician prescribed him Ambien and Klonopin, which Casey previously told the Herald he took with beers, before going to work at the federal shipyard.

“I should’ve made him quit when he started going through it,” Kathy said last week. “He was scared going to work. He painted in tight places no one else could get into and it led him to have anxiety.”

She said she first heard about the fire the day after it happened, when federal agents with Casey in custody, knocked on her door.

“It was the last hug I got out of him,” she said in tears.

Three days later she heard he was arrested.

“I had to go to work the next day,” she remembered. “It was horrible.”

Kathy said she went to her son’s bail hearing in federal court and she called it “ridiculous” that he was held without bail.

“My head was hurting so bad, I thought I was going to die,” she recalled.

She wrote a letter for his sentencing hearing, but said his public defender deleted a part in which she wrote that Casey had “a loss of memory issue.”

“I saw it first hand,” she said.

Kathy regrets being unable to pay for a defense attorney for her son to launch a vigorous defense and take his case to trial. She also still blames herself for “not getting his mental health introduced” as evidence.

“I had no clue about the law,” she said. “If I knew then what I know now, I’d have been a force to be reckoned with.”

After Casey was sentenced, his mother said, he turned around and mouthed the words, “I love you mom.”

She cries remembering it.

A hopeful mother

Kathy mails her son $25 a month for the prison commissary so he can buy toiletries, snacks and coffee. She mails letters telling him, “You will make it” and to behave because “it affects me.”

She sometimes drives the 12-hour round-trip to the New Jersey prison, alone, to see him in person.

“I tell him happiness comes from within, you have to find it inside,” she said. “It’s such a helpless feeling. Some days I feel like I can’t take it anymore.”

Among Kathy’s family photos is one of her with Casey, taken inside the Fort Dix federal prison. He’s in tan prison pants and a matching shirt, while they stand side-by-side in front of a backdrop with a simulated urban skyline.

To get that photo, she said, she waited in line with families of other inmates, then had to pay for it.

“It’s the worst place ever to have your picture taken with your son,” she said.

Kathy said she was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder after her son’s arrest. She works with a life coach, lifts weights and walks, habits she adopted to replace medication.

Describing herself as spiritual, but not religious, she said she prays, “when my anxiety comes.”

She also adopted a cat she sings to, trained to shake and calls “better than medication.” She’s collected every bit of paperwork pertaining to her son’s criminal case and sent it to the New England Innocence Project.

“They never said yea and they never said nay,” she said.

She also hopes someday a lawyer will offer to review her son’s case, at no charge, and work to secure his freedom.

“I’m just a hopeful mother,” she said. “How do I know if I don’t keep trying?”

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