In a deal struck with a judge, the man pleads no contest to setting fire to a house owned by a sex offender.
By GRAHAM BRINK
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000
TAMPA -- A man accused of lighting a sexual predator's house on fire last year pleaded no contest Wednesday and agreed to a sentence of 45 years of probation.
Raymond McCown, 23, of Wickline Drive in Riverview, was about to go to trial on arson and burglary charges when his lawyer and Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett came to the agreement.
The probation will be suspended if McCown pays restitution for the damage the fire caused to the home, which is estimated at $40,000.
Defendants who plead no contest do not admit guilt but offer no defense. They are subject to being judged guilty and punished as if they had pleaded guilty or been convicted.
McCown, who had no prior felony convictions, had faced a maximum of 45 years in prison. Prosecutor Anthony Arena said he was set to go to trial and had no control over the agreement McCown struck with the judge.
"This was not a plea agreement with the state," Arena said. "We had offered him plea agreements, but they always included prison time."
McCown and Anthony Welch, 17, of 1606 E Bird St. in Tampa, were arrested Nov. 23 and charged with first-degree arson and burglary after they ran from Patrick J. Richards' house early in the morning and collided with deputies. Dozens of residents had protested when Richards, a registered sexual offender convicted of fondling and performing oral sex on young boys, bought a home on Presidential Street in the Mango neighborhood.
Someone set a fire inside the home Nov. 20, and officials stationed two undercover deputies outside the house around the clock.
Three days later, the deputies watched a car drive by the house twice, then park around the corner. Two people went inside the house with a can, deputies said, and minutes later there were three explosions. McCown and Welch ran from the house and were arrested. No one was hurt, but the explosions damaged the attic.
Welch had confessed right after his arrest and had agreed to testify at McCown's trial. Welch, who has not been sentenced, pleaded guilty to arson and burglary in exchange for not being sentenced as an adult. Arena said Welch faces no more than six years in prison and could receive less.
Nobody has ever been charged for the Nov. 20 fire.
After the fire, Richards said he should not be targeted for crimes for which he had already served his debt to society. He said he had a right to buy a home and would not leave. Eventually, he put the house up for sale and moved back to his parents' home in Apollo Beach.
"I don't believe Mr. Richards was happy with today's sentence," Arena said.
Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.