Former North Tonawanda firefighter Matthew W. Jurado apologized Friday to the city's only African-American firefighter for setting his home on fire. But Kenneth D. Walker, who currently lives in Kenmore, didn't accept the apology.
"This was justice for me, seeing him finally pay for what he did," Walker said after watching Jurado receive a 10-year prison sentence.
Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III imposed the sentence, which included five years of post-release supervision, for the Aug. 3 fire at 1096 Oliver St.
Jurado, who lived across the street from Walker, pleaded guilty May 19 to second-degree arson in exchange for a promise that he would serve no more than 10 years. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 25 years.
Jurado told North Tonawanda police he had been ousted in July 2016 from Live Hose Company, one of the city's volunteer fire companies. He sought to join Gratwick Hose Company, where Walker was a member, but Walker told Jurado he didn't think he could obtain an application for Jurado. Jurado told detectives that angered him.
On Aug. 3, he received a call from Walker, asking him to check whether Walker and his wife had forgotten to lock their apartment when they left for work that morning. Jurado found the Walker apartment unlocked. He told police he emptied a bottle of lighter fluid on the couch and lit it.
"This case has been a shame on so many levels," Walker told Murphy. "I considered Mr. Jurado a friend, someone I'd entrust my life to as a fellow firefighter."
Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann noted other residents of the apartment were inside at the time of the fire.
"He did it without regard for the other people who lived in that building," Hoffmann said.
"I am very sorry for my acts," Jurado said as he haltingly read a prepared speech. "I take full responsibility and apologize to Ken Walker and his family. What happened was a moment of stupidity and not thinking."
Walker, however, said he doesn't think Jurado, 40, started the fire on the spur of the moment.
"I believe it was premeditated," Walker said.
The fire occurred two days after Walker received a racially threatening letter. It has never been determined who sent that letter, although Walker said he believes Jurado either sent it or knows who did.
"Ken was my friend, and it hurts me that some people have said this was racial," Jurado said.
"I think it was a crime of jealousy," the judge told Jurado. "I think you were jealous of Mr. Walker, jealous he was still in the fire service. He did nothing wrong, and in your twisted thoughts and desires I think that somehow you were going to be a hero of some kind."
In an interview with The Buffalo News last year, Walker said he learned of the fire from Jurado, who called him while it was still burning. Walker lost a couple of cats in the fire, Walker's wife told a probation officer that the couple's daughter, then 4 years old, sobbed for months over her lost toys and stuffed animals.
When he pleaded guilty, Jurado said he was undergoing substance abuse treatment at the time of the fire, and may have been drinking that morning.
In the following days, Walker was the recipient of an outpouring of gifts and cash donations, including an online drive organized by Shawn Moynihan, a Wheatfield firefighter who had never met him. Walker bought a house in Kenmore with $150,000 in donations he received.