Saturday, March 29, 2003

Man pleads guilty in case involving dozens of fires

Arsonist, who set at least 37 blazes in Ohio, gets sentences of 35 years

The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - A man who set at least 37 fires throughout northwest Ohio helped arson investigators build their case against him.

Authorities say that after they confronted Julius Burch about the fires in mid-February, he spent a day with an investigator driving around four counties pointing out locations he had targeted.

"Basically, I gave them the evidence so I could be prosecuted," said Burch, 43, of Napoleon.

Burch on Thursday apologized for setting fires over six years that damaged or destroyed five churches, a college classroom building and a warehouse filled with lollipops.

"Some would call me kind of crazy, but I'm kind of relieved having cleared my closet," he said in Wood County Common Pleas Court.

Appearing in four courtrooms in one day, Burch pleaded guilty to more than 100 counts of arson and breaking and entering, most of which occurred in 2000 and 2001 in Defiance, Fulton, Henry and Wood counties.

Judges agreed to run their prison terms concurrently, putting Burch's penalty for the crimes at 35 years with no chance of parole. He could have received a maximum of 76 years in jail.

No one was injured in the fires, which began in 1996 and caused millions of dollars of damage. There was no pattern to the fires, investigators said.

The most costly fire destroyed about $6.5 million worth of Spangler Candy Co. products, including about 110,000 cases of Dum Dum Pops and other treats in June 2001.

Burch, a former forklift operator, did not say why he broke into the buildings and set them ablaze. He said he typically took nothing and that the doors were "wide open" on many occasions.

"It feels good to admit I'm wrong," he said. "I don't have a real good explanation myself."

Burch's attorney, James Hitchcock of Defiance, said he was surprised by the confession.

"I've never had anybody quite behave like this before," he said.

The classrooms that burned were at Defiance College. The other fires included a Chinese restaurant in Wauseon and a mortuary in Napoleon.

Napoleon fire Chief Lynn Hancock said his department was overwhelmed by a rash of fires in 2000, some of which Burch set.

Authorities began to look more closely at Burch after he was accused of breaking into a store in August in Wauseon and later charged with arson in a fire in Defiance last year.

Burch had been in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio in Stryker since December

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