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Martinsburg man pleads guilty to arson

November 30, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Martinsburg man who entered a guilty plea to first-degree arson on Monday told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes that he was intoxicated when he started a residential fire last year.

Allen K. Starcher, 46, is expected to be sentenced Feb. 1 as part of a plea agreement he entered with Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Jean Games-Neely's office.

Starcher could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, and is to be ordered to pay restitution and court costs as part of the deal. An unrelated charge of delivery of cocaine was dismissed as part of the agreement.

"I don't know what made me do it," Starcher told the judge, describing how he ignited boxes under the porch of a home at 109 Centre St. on Aug. 23, 2008.

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Starcher told Wilkes that he had "a buzz" from drinking about half a bottle of wine when he ignited boxes that were under the home with a lighter he had in his pocket.

The fire destroyed the porch of the two-story home and spread to the first floor, causing about $40,000 in damage, Martinsburg Fire Department's chief fire investigator has said.

Two people in the home when the fire started were not injured, Games-Neely said on Monday.

Starcher told the judge his decision to start the fire was "spur of the moment." He recalled complaints from neighbors that the "renters" at the home were causing trouble in the neighborhood and that they wanted them to move.

Starcher said he still didn't understand why he started the fire because he knew the residents in question were about to move anyway.

Chief Public Defender Deborah A. Lawson told Wilkes that the arson happened during a tumultuous period in Starcher's life. The trial for one of two men accused of killing her client's ex-wife, Tina Marie Starcher, was to begin a little more than a week after the fire.

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