Pyromaniac Sentenced to Seven Years for $1.5 Million Utah Lumberyard Fire

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A diagnosed pyromaniac who set a $1.5 million fire at a West Jordan lumber yard where he had been fired and then tried to point suspicion toward environmentalists has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Justus Ireland, a sex offender from Phoenix, was sentenced on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart, who said, ''This was a very serious crime, and I believe an 87-month sentence is justified and, perhaps, unduly merciful.''

Ireland, 24, pleaded guilty in October to one count of destruction of property by fire for the June 2004 blaze at Stock Building Supply.

Stewart imposed the maximum sentence under federal sentencing guidelines, saying Ireland showed ''a wanton disregard and potential for injury, if not death'' to firefighters who fought the massive fire and also endangered nearby homeowners.

Ireland, who had a previous conviction for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, was ordered to undergo sex-offender treatment in prison and register as a sex offender.

After he is released, he must pay $250 a month partial restitution to the lumber company for three years.

Ireland's court-appointed defense attorney had asked Stewart to stay close to the five-year mandatory minimum required in the case, citing Ireland's cooperation with law enforcement and history of mental health and behavioral problems.

''There is no question as to whether Mr. Ireland is culpable here,'' attorney Chelsea Koch said. ''But Mr. Ireland had underlying factors that led to his behavior.''

At the time, Ireland was off his medication for anxiety and depression and had taken a high amount of painkillers, Koch said.

Further, he is a diagnosed pyromaniac, which, when combined with his history of narcissism, led him to make statements of pride and excitement regarding the blaze at his former workplace, Koch said.

Ireland had been fired shortly before the blaze, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lunnen said Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Ireland went to extraordinary measures to move suspicion away from former Stock employees, such as spray-painting the letters ''ELF'' _ for the Earth Liberation Front _ in two different writing styles at different locations within the lumber yard.

Ireland also faxed a letter to a radio station claiming responsibility on behalf of ELF and threatening five other Utah businesses.

Ireland denied any connection to the group, but more recently has expressed sympathy to its cause, Lunnen said.

However, it still was a calculated attempt to avoid detection by investigators, Lunnen said.

''If you look at his lifestyle, much of what he does is to satisfy his own desires,'' and that is what he did in this case, Lunnen said.

''He wanted to set a fire,'' Lunnen said. ''He wanted to see something burn.''

Ireland declined to speak at the hearing, but asked Koch to apologize on his behalf and to relay the message that he is ''extremely sorry about his behavior and concerned about Stock Building Supply.''

The company is locked in a dispute with its insurance company and has so far been unable to collect money for the fire because of the initial indication that the blaze was an act of terrorism.

Koch said Tuesday that Ireland has allowed her to share information with Stock for use in resolving the dispute.

When contacted Tuesday afternoon, a company representative declined to comment on Stock's situation following the fire.