Firefighters’ Sentences in Arson Case Discussed in Court

CLEARFIELD – Three men who pleaded guilty to setting a Chester Hill house on fire were in court Tuesday to discuss how they should serve their sentences.

Kenneth Moore, 21, Lanse, Hunter Thomas Harris, 22, Philipsburg and Samuel Wilbur Connor V, 20, Howard, were sentenced to 12 months less two days to two years less one day in jail and an additional five years probation after they pleaded guilty last fall.

Because of health concerns, Moore has not reported to the jail. Officials have been looking into his situation to determine if he is a candidate for incarceration at the jail. Moore had an organ transplant and is vulnerable to infections.

Tuesday during motions court, President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman read a letter from the doctor who works at the county jail. He explained that the jail has “many individuals in close quarters.”

The letter goes on to say that he treats many cases of the flu and other infections. Because the jail does not have a medical isolation unit and there is no way to separate Moore from the general population, he feels that if Moore were incarcerated at the jail, “it would put him at serious risk.”

When Ammerman asked what the district attorney’s office position is on the situation, First Assistant District Attorney Ryan Dobo replied that “it is hard to disregard what the doctor said.”

Ammerman commented that the victims are probably upset that Moore is not in jail. Relatives and friends of his co-defendants are also complaining.

Attorney Tami Fees, who is representing Moore, stated that incarceration at the jail would be a life sentence for Moore. She agreed this is a unique situation and suggested a GPS unit for house arrest may be the answer.

Ammerman asked the district attorney’s office to provide a letter on their position on Moore’s commitment to jail or proceeding with using a GPS unit.

Harris, currently an inmate of the jail, filed a petition to be placed into a prerelease program. His attorney, Chris Pentz, argued that if Harris is out, he can work and begin to pay restitution.

Each of the defendants is responsible for more than $30,000 to be paid to the victims and their insurance company, according to a previous article.

Pentz also mentioned that Harris had been on work release, but due to a violation when he used a computer, he was in solitary confinement for two weeks.

Ammerman noted that his use of a computer was not the only problem. A woman called the jail complaining that Harris has been harassing her. He’s also had some problems with the staff at the jail.

The three men got a “huge break” when they weren’t sentenced to state prison, Ammerman stated. He denied the request to put Harris on an early release program. He did, however, say he would look into Harris going back into the work release program.

Connor’s attorney, William Fleming, also asked for his client to be put into the early release program. He stated Connor has been a “model prisoner,” completing 600 hours of community service. Connor also wants to get out so he can work and pay restitution, Fleming said.

Ammerman said he appreciated that Connor was doing better at the jail than Harris, but reiterated that he could have been sentenced to five years in state prison. He said he would not even consider house arrest for him, but he would be fine with him going into the work release program.

These charges stem from a fire in October of 2015 in Chester Hill. According to the affidavit of probable cause, police were asked to investigate the fire by Chester Hill Fire Department’s chief.

It was determined that the fire started inside a shed attached to the back of the home where a direct flame was used deliberately on some combustible materials. From there, the fire spread up the exterior rear of the unoccupied home and into the residence.

When the three men were interviewed about the fire on Oct. 26, 2015, they independently confessed after receiving their Miranda warnings. Their statements were consistent with each other, with the damage and the evidence at the scene.

They said while they were at the Hope Fire Station in Philipsburg in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2015 they talked about starting a fire in a vacant home Moore had previously located.

They wanted a fire so they could respond there with their fire company that provides aid to the Chester Hill Fire Department.

Using hay, a cardboard toilet paper roll, a paper wrapper from a new toilet paper roll and a paper plate they created a fuel package for ignition. They traveled to the home where Moore dropped Harris and Connor off.

Harris placed the package inside an opening of the wood frame shed and he used a lighter that he obtained from Moore’s vehicle to ignite the fuel package. Harris and Connor went to the parking lot of Highway Pizza where they met back with Moore.

They then returned to the fire station in Philipsburg to wait for the call that came about 15 minutes later for the fire company to respond to a structure fire in Chester Hill. The three men returned to the scene with the fire company and assisted with putting out the fire.

 

 

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