Man gets 70 months for role in house fire

Home of six Mexican men in Elkton burned down

May 11, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A Cecil County man who deliberately helped burn down a rental home because Mexican nationals lived there was sentenced yesterday to just under six years in prison by a judge who said hate crimes cannot be tolerated.

U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis ordered Christopher Cimorose, 34, to begin his 70-month sentence June 14. Davis also told Cimorose not to return to the Hollingsworth Manor neighborhood in Elkton where the incident occurred -- and where his wife and children still reside -- before June 14.

The judge also forbade Cimorose from visiting the area during the three years of supervised probation he will serve after his release.

"As far as I'm concerned, he should never go back to the community," Davis said. "His face should never be seen there. I think when he did this, he forfeited his right to live in the community."

Cimorose's attorney, Sarah S. Gannett, objected to the restriction, saying "exiling someone from a community as a condition of pretrial release raises a red flag for me."

Davis did not budge.

"I'm not banishing him from Maryland. I'm not banishing him from Cecil County," the judge replied. "I'm not even banishing him from Elkton. But he cannot physically enter the Manor."

Cimorose pleaded guilty in January to federal civil rights violations in connection with the incident July 15, 2000, in which a duplex in the 100 block of Hollingsworth Manor was set on fire. Three of the six Hispanic men living there were home at the time of the fire. They escaped unharmed.

Authorities quickly focused on ethnicity as a possible motive and called in FBI investigators. Cimorose eventually admitted that he helped two other men plan the arson attempt, that he supplied the gasoline used and that he warned neighbors to vacate their homes.

Davis used several factors to decide the sentence.

He referred to a letter Cimorose wrote to a U.S. probation officer in which he questioned whether he would have burned the house had its occupants been white.

"Unhesitantly, I conclude ... the answer is, `No,'" said Davis. "He would not have done it. He would not have thought of doing it."

Another factor was Cimorose's suggestion in the letter that he burned the home because the Mexican men were molesting children and were drunk and disorderly. No evidence was found to support that claim.

Also, Davis noted the "warning" Cimorose gave July 15 to people in the duplex next to the one he planned to set on fire.

Gannett argued that Cimorose warned the tenants because they were friends. Davis disagreed.

"I find Mr. Cimorose would have warned anybody living next door to the victims, anybody, because he didn't want to hurt anybody but the victims," Davis said.

Before being sentenced, Cimorose addressed the court.

"I just want to apologize for all of this mess that I started," he said. "What I did was very wrong, and I can't take it back. Those people didn't deserve what I did to them."

Ronnie Cimorose, 37, testified that his brother has grown closer to the family since he stopped using alcohol, and that he has become a better husband and father.

His words did not lessen the crime in the judge's mind.

"I recognize, and frankly I salute Mr. Cimorose for ... cutting through a decade or longer embrace of substances and neglect of family issues," Davis said. "But ... this kind of criminal offense is not to be tolerated."

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