‘Outrageous’ arson case concluded
CENTREVILLE — Reacting to both the behavior of an accused arsonist and to the fact that a felony case landed in his courtroom as a misdemeanor offense, St. Joseph County District Court Judge Jeffrey Middleton sentenced William Carl Croy, 46, of Sturgis to 300 days in jail plus 65 days deferred for the August 2016 arson of a residence on Oak Drive in Sherman Township. Four days were credited for time served.
“This is a 20-year felony,” Middleton exclaimed, referring to Michigan Law that considers first degree arson a serious offense, punishable by as much as two decades in prison.
The case, however, was remanded to district court by the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office on a reduced charge of fifth degree arson, which upon conviction can result in no more than one year in jail and/or a fine of $2,000 or three times the value of the property destroyed, whichever is greater. Middleton opted not to impose a fine, judging the defendant unlikely or unable to meet such a requirement.
Following a trajectory that initially pointed towards a jury trial, Croy’s case eventually led to a May 3 plea bargain in which Croy pled no contest to arson in the fifth degree.
“Your actions were worthy of a felony,” Middleton said, addressing Croy during sentencing Monday afternoon (July 10). “You destroyed property and put the health and safety of those in the home and neighbors (in jeopardy),” Middleton continued. “It’s important to understand the risk the defendant put those in.” (Croy was the lone occupant at the time of the conflagration.)
Middleton then turned to restitution, noting first that insurance had paid Croy’s girlfriend Christine Ann Pratt, the homeowner and thus victim of the crime, $153,152 to replace the structure.
Restitution was appropriate—and an astounding amount—Middleton observed.
“It’s a record,” Middleton asserted. “I never had one this large in district court.” Noting that Croy’s income is derived from public assistance, Middleton ordered payment of $153,152 and then said, “Defendant doesn’t have the ability to pay—(but) I’m going to order it.”
Delving into the circumstances of the case, Middleton, citing police reports, related that emergency responders arriving at the scene of a blazing home encountered Croy who “walked up said, ‘I started the fire. I burned the home on purpose (because) I thought my wife (Pratt, actually girlfriend) was leaving.’”
Continuing the narrative, Middleton said his information indicated that Pratt’s ex-husband had been in the home sometime prior to the fire, unsettling Croy and possibly fueling Croy’s actions leading to the fire.
Please see Saturday’s Commercial-News print or e-edition for the full article.