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Middletown man could face up to 30 years for setting Hagerstown apartment building fire

April 29, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A Middletown, Md., man admitted in court Monday to setting fire to an apartment building after an argument with a woman he had dated.

Jason Todd Burkett pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court to one count of arson in an October 2007 apartment fire in Hagerstown. He faces as much as 30 years in prison.

Burkett, 25, was charged with first- and second-degree arson, several counts of reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. Prosecutors dropped the other charges in exchange for the plea.

Firefighters responded to the Oct. 6, 2007, fire on Security Road at about 6:30 a.m., Assistant State's Attorney John Dunlap said Monday morning.

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A witness told police he heard Burkett say "something bad is going to happen" after he got into an argument with a woman who lived at Washington Garden Apartments, Dunlap said.

Burkett had been drinking that morning, Dunlap said.

Defense attorney Eric Andrews disputed that Burkett ever said something bad would happen.

The woman, Burkett's ex-girlfriend, said the two had been out at a bar with mutual friends and the group had returned to her apartment for the night when Burkett started yelling at the woman and her friends asked him to leave, documents show.

Burkett left the apartment building and later returned, Dunlap said.

During the investigation, a dog identified the use of an accelerant, later identified by the fire marshal as gasoline. Burkett poured gasoline around the building and in the stairwells, Dunlap said.

Several people, including children, were trapped in the building and some jumped out of windows to escape, Dunlap said.

Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. accepted the plea and ordered a presentence investigation, saying the arson was "a most serious offense."

The arson conviction is Burkett's first criminal offense, his defense attorney said.

Dunlap recommended a sentence of 15 years in prison, with all but seven years suspended.

The judge revoked Burkett's bond and ordered him into the custody of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

A sentencing hearing will be scheduled when the presentence investigation is completed.

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