Judge sentences man in arson and burglary of Gamber home in '94 Culprit burned house of girlfriend's sister

March 29, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Westminster man who burned down the Gamber home of his girlfriend's sister in 1994 after the women had a fistfight at their father's funeral was sentenced to 25 years in state prison in Carroll County Circuit Court yesterday.

Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. suspended 10 years of the arson sentence against Walter Gilliam Mitchell, 40, who pleaded guilty to arson and burglary in December.

The judge gave Mitchell a 20-year, concurrent sentence on the burglary charge, suspended five of those years, and placed him on five years of supervised probation after his release.

Judge Burns also signed a civil judgment against Mitchell for $178,903, which is owed to the insurance company that paid the homeowners' claim for the destroyed house.

Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes called the case "nasty from its beginning."

In the statement of facts, the county's chief prosecutor said Mitchell knew that Carolyn and Russell Brown, owners of the burned house in the 1400 block of Knox Court, were in West Virginia for the funeral of Mrs. Brown's father Feb. 5, 1994.

When Mitchell received a telephone call about the family's feud that night from Diane Patton, Mrs. Brown's sister and his girlfriend at the time, he became very angry, vowed revenge and said he would burn the Browns' house down, Mr. Barnes said.

About 12: 30 a.m. Feb. 6, the prosecutor said Mitchell and two friends, Dennis M. Sorrentino, 22, of Gettysburg and Ronald W. Flannery, 22, of Westminster bought two gallons of gasoline in Westminster and drove to the Browns' home. The prosecutor said Mitchell smashed a rear sliding door, went upstairs to the living room, saturated curtains and carpet with the fuel and set the fire.

Sorrentino and Flannery have pleaded guilty and received five-year sentences for their roles in the incident.

Richard M. Karceski, a Towson attorney representing Mitchell, asked Judge Burns to consider limiting his client's prison time to 10 years, because Sorrentino and Flannery received light sentences.

Judge Burns rejected that request, saying that both men were given a break because they had agreed to testify against Mitchell, who then intended to proceed to trial.

Sorrentino had three years of his sentence suspended and Flannery had four years suspended, the judge said.

The judge said Flannery's involvement also violated probation in another case. The judge said he would sign court documents later yesterday that would, in effect, impose the remainder of an eight-year sentence on Flannery for his parole violation.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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