Assistant State's Attorney Joe Michael said the incident occurred Nov. 16, 1996, when Hart and his estranged wife were no longer living at 13306 Herman Myers Road, the scene of the fire.
Hart called his wife at her parents' house and first told her there had been a break-in at the house and he was beaten up.
"At that time, Hart told his father-in-law he was going to burn the house down," Michael said. "Then he called back and said it was burning."
Neighbors confirmed that the house was on fire and called the fire department, Michael said.
When Maryland State Fire Marshal Bruce Shafer arrived, he found Hart standing outside holding a frozen garden hose, Michael said.
"He told Shafer it was an accident with a heater," Michael said.
Shafer's investigation revealed the fire started outside, not inside the garage. And he learned the heater wasn't on at the time of the fire.
Shafer's report indicated that Hart had been drinking when he spoke with him that day, Michael said.
Hart's wife, Irene, told Boone that her husband has a severe drinking problem.
When asked if he agreed, Hart didn't seem to concur. He admitted he had been drinking since the incident, as recently as last Friday.
Michael asked for a prison sentence, noting that arson carries a 30-year maximum penalty. "This risks firefighters and cost the county," Michael said.
Defense attorney Bruce Poole told Boone he didn't think this was a case for jail. Poole said Hart lost his job when he was jailed for failing to appear for an earlier hearing date.
"He had 16 to 18 beers that day and a tranquilizer," Poole said.
Hart apologized to his wife, his in-laws and the firefighters. He said he didn't remember the events of that day.