Pennsylvania Arsonist Receives 1- to 2-Year Sentence

A Feasterville man who told police he torched his mother's house after getting no Christmas presents received a one- to two-year sentence yesterday in Bucks County Court.

Steven Murray, 22, pleaded no contest to arson and criminal mischief charges in the Dec. 26 blaze. The home he shared with his mother on Manor Lane was destroyed, but no one was injured.

Murray, who suffers from bipolar disorder and hallucinations, told Judge Mitchell Goldberg that he had stopped taking his medication before the fire and has no memory it.

"I think I learned my lesson," he said in court.

Goldberg declared Murray, who has been jailed since the fire, guilty but mentally ill. He ordered that Murray serve the remaining four months of his minimum sentence at Norristown State Hospital before becoming eligible for parole.

After his parole ends, Murray will be on probation for five years, Goldberg said.

"This is the right result; it is a fair result," the judge said.

Murray's case made international news after Lower Southampton police said he had been angry over getting no presents on Christmas morning.

That day he broke all the windows of the house, forcing his mother to flee the frigid temperatures and move in with a relative. Murray then voluntarily checked himself into Warminster Hospital's psychiatric unit, but he later left and walked home.

At 2:30 a.m. Dec. 26, the house was engulfed in flames. Police arrived to find an empty gasoline container near the rear entrance, and Murray walking away from the house, his coat smelling of gasoline.

After his arrest, Murray blurted out that he had lit the fire. "So what if I set the fire? It's my house," he was quoted as saying.

Family members later disputed that Murray had burned the house over Christmas presents. Assistant District Attorney Robert James agreed yesterday that Murray's yuletide disappointment was not the main cause of his crime.

"I think it was one of the things that set him off," James said, "but this case really happened because of his mental illness" and his failure to take his medication.

Murray told Goldberg that he had left his job at a restaurant because his medicine was making him sleepless and nauseated. That, in turn, left him without medical insurance, and he didn't want his mother to pay for the medicine.

"I didn't like her paying for my medication because it was so expensive," he said in court.

On the day of the arson, Murray was having hallucinations and talking to imaginary people, mental health reports said.

"I don't know what happened," Murray said of the fire. "I don't remember doing anything other than going to my house and then leaving my house."

Distributed by the Associated Press

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