Thursday, June 4, 2009

Judge scolds Pocomoke men for roles in fire

Three local men have been sentenced to 18 months in jail for their roles in the October break-in and arson of a Pocomoke City public works facility.

Charles E. Furst, 19, and Matthew A. Depaolis, 20, both apologized for their actions before pleading guilty in Circuit Court Monday to one of the 13 charges against each of them. The charges held them responsible for the destruction of the Young Street maintenance garage on Oct. 5.

"I know it was stupid," Matthew Depaolis said. "It was stupid to do it, and I apologize."

The third defendant, Matthew's brother Nicholas J. Depaolis, 22, was sentenced at a plea hearing in May to 18 months in jail, 36 months of probation and a $1,000 fine for a malicious destruction of property.

Furst had 42 months suspended of the five-year penalty for first-degree malicious burning of property. The Pocomoke City resident -- who confessed to law enforcement officials that he started the fire -- will also pay $286,000 to the city in restitution and serve 36 months of supervised probation.

Matthew Depaolis received the same sentence as his brother.

The State's Attorney's Office did not prosecute any of the other charges, which included burglary, theft and -- for Furst -- a count of second-degree arson.

Circuit Court Judge Theodore R. Eschenburg Sr. warned the men that they were getting off lightly with only 18 months in jail for what he called very serious charges.

"Guys, I am shocked to even see you here at all," Eschenburg said, looking down on the young defendants. "I don't know what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting three guys with no (criminal) record."

Eschen-burg seemed especially disappointed at Furst for his role in the incident. The Pocomoke High School graduate served in the JROTC for four years, and was appointed to the rank of 1st Sergeant as a senior. He aspired to join the U.S. Marine Corps, but was unable to for health reasons, said his former commander Sgt. Maj. Ron Trostle, who testified on Furst's behalf.

"I cannot believe you would do something so completely and utterly stupid," Eschenburg said after looking through a folder of Furst's ROTC awards and letters supporting his character. "You were on your way to being somebody."

Pocomoke police arrested the men in January after an anonymous tip lead investigators to search the Cypress Road house where they were living. There, they found the missing radios.

The town is still in the process of replacing all of the equipment and the building, said Mayor Michael McDermott, who called the arson a "malicious act."

"In tough economic times, this is such a tragic event," the mayor said. "This is not a time as mayor that I want to fund replacing equipment when there was nothing wrong with it."

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