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Judge gives Meyers two life sentences for fire that killed two girls

October 27, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Clarence Franklin Meyers was sentenced Tuesday to two consecutive life sentences -- one for each girl who died in a Hancock fire he set in February.

Meyers, 38, pleaded guilty in August to two counts of felony murder.

He admitted to setting his Old Route 40 home on fire Feb. 16 to gain sympathy and money from the community. He had lost his job and his unemployment benefits had run out, public defender Eric Reed said in court.

Nicole Gross, 15, and Mary Gross, 12, died in the fire. Their mother, Melissa Wolf, Meyers' girlfriend at the time, escaped.

Washington County Circuit Judge John H. McDowell, who imposed the sentence, called Meyers' attempt to generate pity "idiotic and foolish, to say the least, but deliberately murderous at worst, and cowardly without a doubt."

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"I miss them so bad ...," Wolf said, her voice and hand shaking as she read from a handwritten statement in court. "My babies shouldn't have died."

Meyers has taken responsibility for causing the fatal fire, but "was not a cold, calculating, callous killer," Reed said.

To show that Meyers was remorseful and hadn't planned the fire in advance, the defense played aloud a 30-minute statement he gave police four days after the fire.

While talking to police, Meyers described seeing a container of lighter fluid in the basement and spraying several ounces, which landed on a fuse box, a mattress and a couch.

After lighting a piece of paper, he briefly thought "I can't do this," but some burning paper quickly sparked a fire on the couch, he told police. "It ignited so fast," he added.

Meyers told police he tried to get back in the main part of the house to get people out, but a door was locked.

He helped Wolf -- known as Melissa Lindeman at the time of the fire -- get out a window. Nicole and Mary, asleep when the fire started, died.

During the police interview, Meyers said his mother once lost everything when her house caught fire, but community donations helped.

Talking about his plan to get community support through a fire at his house, Meyers said to police, "I just wanted work."

"At best, it was a thoughtless and reckless ploy for sympathy," Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion said. "At worst, it was murder."

Reed said Meyers lost his job at Rayloc, then his unemployment benefits ran out.

As Meyers' taped statement played in court, Wolf leaned her head on the shoulder of her brother, Rob Miller.

Meyers spoke briefly in court on Tuesday. His voice cracking, he said, "I never meant anything like this .... I'm sorry."

Nicole and Mary Gross transferred from the Allegany County, Md., school system to Hancock Middle-Senior High School for the 2008-09 school year.

Assistant Principal Larry Smith said in court that the girls were "angelic."

Mary was shy, but "would lighten up a room by walking in it," he said. She liked art, music and animals.

Nicole was more outgoing and brought "calmness" to conflicts around her, Smith said.

"There's no measure for this loss, your honor," he said.

A presentence report recommended that Meyers get 25 years to life on each count of felony murder.

Meyers is eligible for parole, according to Cirincion.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which includes the Maryland Parole Commission, said parole eligibility for a life sentence begins after about 15 years.

For Meyers' two consecutive life sentences, it would be 15 years for the first plus 15 years for the second, minus credits earned in prison.

If he receives credits, Meyers likely would be eligible for a parole hearing in about 23 years, Vernarelli said.

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