DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The Michigan appeals court has ordered a new hearing to determine the prison sentence for a man whose fire killed a Detroit firefighter.
Mario Willis was sentenced to at least 41 years in prison for second-degree murder. The appeals court says Wayne County Judge Michael Callahan must better explain why he went beyond the usual sentencing guidelines. It’s possible that Willis still will get the same punishment.
A charge of second-degree murder in Michigan carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
Willis was accused of paying a handyman $20 to burn down an abandoned two-story house that was owned by his girlfriend. Detroit firefighter Walter Harris died while trying to put out the fire in November 2008. The roof collapsed on him.
The man who set the fire, Darian Dove, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against the 31-year-old Willis.
Dove testified that Willis paid him to set the fire in a scheme to collect on insurance and escape a mortgage that was in arrears. Dove said Willis drove him and a container of gasoline to the house on Kirby Street that night to do a “light burn,” but the fire roared out of control.
Dove said he called 911 around 4 a.m. to report the fire. Harris, a 19-year veteran of the Detroit Fire Department, and other members of Engine 23 were trapped when the roof of the house collapsed. The other crewmen were rescued, but Harris’ life couldn’t be saved.
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