The former North Tonawanda firefighter who set fire to the apartment of the city's only black fireman said Friday he might have been drinking before he did it.
Matthew W. Jurado, who told police he set fire to the home of Kenneth D. Walker because he was angry over having been ousted from one of the city's volunteer fire companies, pleaded guilty as charged to second-degree arson, and will be going to state prison.
Jurado, 40, had rejected reduced plea offers twice before, but Assistant Public Defender A. Joseph Catalano was able to obtain a sentencing commitment from Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III that was close to what Jurado might have received if he had taken a lesser plea.
"Based upon my knowledge of this case and your background, I'm willing to make a commitment of five years to no more than 10 years," Murphy told Jurado.
Five years is the mandatory minimum for the crime, while the legal maximum is 25 years. If Jurado had taken a plea offer to third-degree arson, the sentencing range would have been 3 1/2 to 15 years.
Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said of the judge's sentencing commitment, "I think it is reasonable."
Jurado entered Walker's apartment about noon Aug. 3, placed a small bottle of lighter fluid on the couch and lit it. That happened two days after Walker received a racially threatening letter, the source of which has never been discovered by police.
In a confession that was ruled admissible by Murphy, Jurado told North Tonawanda police that he was upset because he had recently been ousted from Live Hose Company, one of the city's volunteer fire companies. Walker, a member of Gratwick Hose Company, who lived across the street from Jurado, had said he would not be able to get Jurado into Gratwick.
Jurado went into the apartment at 1096 Oliver St. after Walker called him and asked him to check whether he and his wife had forgotten to lock it when they left that morning. The apartment was open.
Hoffmann said Jurado had reason to know there were other people in other apartments in the building when he started the fire.
Murphy asked Jurado why he set the fire. "I don't know, sir," Jurado replied.
"You need to have a better answer than that," the judge said.
"I wasn't thinking," Jurado replied.
"Were you trying to make a point?" Murphy asked.
"I wasn't in my right mind," Jurado answered.
"Were you intoxicated?" asked the judge.
"I don't remember, sir," Jurado said. "I might have had a couple, sir." He added that he was going to substance abuse rehabilitation for both drug and alcohol use at the time of the crime.
Catalano said that no matter what Jurado was ingesting, "It did not affect his ability to tell right from wrong."
Walker, who has since moved to Erie County and bought a home with $150,000 in online donations from area residents, was not present for Friday's court session. Jurado said at his arraignment that he was living on Colvin Avenue in Buffalo, but Friday he gave the court his old Oliver Street address.
He remains free on a $50,000 bail bond to await sentencing July 21.