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PA- Man jailed for trying to torch home

4-20-2009 Pennsylvania:

Three endangered in Fulton Township

George Sheets Jr. claimed he targeted a convicted sex offender when he tried to set fire to a Fulton Township mobile home while three people slept inside.

Prosecutors argued Sheets was a jilted ex-lover when he committed the attempted arson in April 2007.

A Lancaster County judge last week tried to make sense of the circumstances surrounding what he called a difficult case.

In the end, Judge Joseph C. Madenspacher granted the 51-year-old Oxford man "one chance only" by sparing him state prison.

He sentenced Sheets to 1 to 2 years, minus one day, in prison so he can serve his time at Lancaster County Prison.(jail)

"I'm taking a chance here. No one's going to be happy with this sentence," Madenspacher said. "I'm going to give you that break, Mr. Sheets."

Madenspacher said state guidelines calling for a maximum sentence of 24 months in prison are perhaps too low.

"I'm really surprised the guidelines are only 24 (months), but they are what they are," he said.

Defense attorney Alan Goldberg told Madenspacher his client is a "completely law-abiding, normal guy" who made an isolated mistake.

"This is a very abnormal case, a law-abiding citizen with an incredible work history," Goldberg told the judge.

Madenspacher agreed that Sheets' credentials aren't common for criminals.

"These are the worst kinds of cases for me to deal with," Madenspacher said. "A pristine record, except this and other harassing incidents which he probably did."

The judge was referring to a series of fires and vandalism at the Warfel Road mobile home prior to the attempted arson. Sheets was not charged with those crimes.

Prosecutors allege all the offenses were committed by Sheets, a jealous ex-boyfriend. For eight years, Sheets dated a woman who moved to the mobile home after a February 2007 breakup, state police said. She lived in the mobile home with her new boyfriend and his adult son.

Sheets claimed in court that his problem was with the new boyfriend, who was convicted of indecent assault in 2004, according to police records.

"I'm sorry I have a problem with sex offenders who rape young kids," Sheets said at his sentencing.

The three people who were in the mobile home when Sheets tried to set it ablaze did not react as they sat in the courtroom's gallery.

First Assistant District Attorney Christopher P. Larsen said Sheets could have killed all three of them when he vented a flammable gas into the mobile home in the 100 block of Warfel Road.

A man inside who woke up and caught Sheets in the act might have saved all their lives, Larsen said.

"If not for the fact that (he) awakened ... the defendant could be standing here charged with three murders — had he finished the job," Larsen said.

Investigators allege Sheets drilled a hole in a wall, then vented the fuel into the kitchen. A lighter or lit match could have ignited the low-lying gas, according to testimony.

Two of the occupants are smokers.

The occupants eventually chased the prowler off their property. Sheets left a power drill and the fuel container behind, police said.

At the hearing, Sheets claimed his grudge with sex offenders stems from instances of sexual abuse when he was in grade school.

Whether those allegations are true, Larsen said, is really a moot point.

"(Alleged sexual) abuse is in no way mitigation," Larsen said.

In the end, Madenspacher said he wanted to keep Sheets under his rule, rather than sending him to state prison. He granted Sheets work release, but warned the defendant to steer clear of his victims.

"If you so much as blink at them, I will send you to state prison for 10 to 20 years," Madenspacher said. "This is one and one chance only here, Mr. Sheets." ..News Source.. by BRETT HAMBRIGHT, Staff Writer

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