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Pa. man charged in fires receives prison sentence

March 26, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Chambersburg man responsible for a series of fires last summer apologized in Franklin County Court recently for the fear he caused the community.

"I want to apologize to all the victims for what I put them through. The things I did were horribly wrong," said Eric Woods, 22. "The community does not have to fear me. I am not going to do anything."

Woods, of 2795B Letterkenny Road, made the statements in court before he was sentenced by Judge Carol Van Horn last Wednesday on two counts of burglary and one count of institutional vandalism.

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Woods previously pleaded guilty to the charges, which stem from a three-week period last May and June when he broke into a neighbor's residence and set fires at the Cumberland Valley Christian School and Falling Spring Elementary School, according to court records.

Defense attorney David Keller asked Van Horn to impose a local prison sentence so Woods could continue to receive mental health counseling, participate in the work-release program and begin paying back the more than $200,000 he owes in restitution.

Van Horn agreed with letters of support from Woods' family, employer and community members that he would benefit most from a local sentence rather than a state sentence so he could continue his counseling.

"When I read the victims' letters, I can only imagine the true fear they experienced. That's not something that can be overlooked," she said.

On the first count of burglary, she ordered Woods to serve 20 years on probation on the condition he pay a $300 fine and serve 12 months in Franklin County Prison.

That charge stemmed from the June 5 burglary at 8 Canterbury Drive, where Woods admitted he threw a brick through a rear window of the residence and stole about $247 worth of items, according to court records.

On the second count of burglary, Van Horn sentenced Woods to six to 23 months in Franklin County Prison, to be served at the expiration of the first jail term.

That charge related to Woods' involvement in a series of break-ins, including at the Spirit of Christ Church, where he said he broke out a window by shooting a BB through it and going inside to look for items to steal, court records show.

Finally, Van Horn ordered Woods to serve seven years on probation for institutional vandalism and pay $170,000 in restitution to the Cumberland Valley Christian School, as well as possibly $49,000 more.

As part of the plea agreement, Woods will not be prosecuted on charges of arson initially filed in that case.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Woods said that at 3 a.m. on June 4, he set fire to some tar paper in an area of new construction at the Cumberland Valley Christian School at 600 Miller St., Chambersburg.

He told police he returned 24 hours later and broke into the computer room and set fire to the curtains, causing the room to catch fire and destroy the entire room and equipment. He also said he set fires to the exterior of the school, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

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