Man sentenced in Kobe fire

December 29, 1997


Staff Writer

A Hagerstown man with a criminal record of 10 felony convictions - including three for arson - was sentenced Monday morning in Washington County Circuit Court to 20 years in prison for the Jan. 25 House of Kobe fire.

Kevin Augustus Cotton, 31, continued to maintain he was not involved in the fire that destroyed the popular Japanese restaurant.

"If I had participated in this crime, I'd feel guilt," Cotton said. "I'm at a loss because I'm not involved."

That stance was in contrast to the testimony at Cotton's Sept. 23 trial, when several of his friends said he told them he had "nothing better to do" the morning of Jan. 25 than set fire to the House of Kobe.

A jury found Cotton was found guilty of second-degree arson. A companion conviction of malicious destruction of property was merged Monday morning and Judge Kennedy Boone imposed no further sentence.


"You are a Fagin - leading others in crimes," Boone said, referring to a Charles Dickens' literary character.

Minutes after that sentencing, Cotton was escorted across the hallway where Judge Frederick C. Wright III sentenced him to an additional 10 years in prison for three unrelated incidents - auto theft, felony and misdemeanor theft, all of which Cotton entered guilty pleas earlier this year.

Currently on parole for a prior arson conviction, Cotton has 41/2 years backup time, according to Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum.

And two days after the Kobe trial, Cotton appeared in Washington County District Court, where he was sentenced to 120 days for a series of dumpster fires.

Key testimony at the Kobe trial came from Richard G. Loudin, 19, and his girlfriend, April Green, 17, both friends of Cotton who live on Manor Drive across from the burned restaurant.

Loudin said he was with Cotton at the rear of the House of Kobe and watched him around the loading dock where the fire broke out a short time later.

April Green said Cotton woke her up early that morning and told her to "come see what I did" and proceeded to take her down to watch the restaurant burn.

While Cotton put on no defense at his trial, his attorney, Steven Kessell, stressed to the jury that neither Green nor Loudin came forward with this information until March.

The fire, which was started in the rear of the 757 Dual Highway restaurant, destroyed the restaurant and left at least six employees temporarily without jobs.

Massy Hirai, owner of the restaurant, testified the loss was about $200,000, only part of which was insured.

The restaurant moved to temporary quarters in the Dagmar Hotel and reopened earlier this month at the site of the fire in a new building.

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