Dec. 22--Just more than 24 hours after a judge sentenced a church arsonist to three years probation the Rockingham County Fire Marshal fired back.
Fire Marshal Robert Cardwell sent a letter out Tuesday afternoon explaining his displeasure over Forsyth County Judge L. Todd Burke's ruling on the Gideon Grove United Methodist Church arsonist.
"You shouldn't get away with burning someone else's house down," Cardwell said in an interview. "And you especially should not get away with burning down the house of God."
Harley Fulp, 18, of 131 Lemontree Trail in Stokesdale confessed to the crime. In addition to his probation Fulp must serve 100 hours helping a crew rebuild the church roof, so long as that doesn't pose a liability.
"On Dec. 16, 2013 nearly a year after the fire destroyed the 100-year-old church, Harley Fulp stood in court to answer to his actions," Cardwell said in the letter. "Fulp took a plea bargain that resulted in three years supervised probation, one hundred hours community service, which includes helping install the roof on the new church once it is constructed, a five hundred dollar ($500) [sic] restitution cost and reading a letter of apology to the church."
Cardwell's right when it comes to the terms of Fulp's probation, however, Fulp didn't take a plea deal. The prosecution didn't offer one. They requested jail time but ultimately left the punishment up to the judge.
Cardwell issued an apology Thursday afternoon acknowledging that Assistant District Attorney Melanie Bridge didn't offer a plea deal and requested both jail time and restitution for fire departments.
If Cardwell speaks for all of the firefighters working that night, they feel slighted.
The nine departments sought restitution totaling $45,035.
"The decision was made by the judge to exclude the restitution of payments," Cardwell said in his letter.
Over 100 firefighters worked the scene on Dec. 22, 2012. Several almost lost their lives due to a roof collapse. Another went to the hospital with cardiac problems.
"To say that justice is served would be a great disrespect to the members of Gideon Grove United Methodist Church, to the firefighters that devoted hundreds of man-hours risking life and limb, to the members of the Rockingham County Fire Investigation Team who worked tirelessly throughout the morning, to the staff of the Rockingham County Fire Marshal's Office, to the Sheriff's Office [sic] Patrol and Detectives, State Bureau of Investigation and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) [sic]," Cardwell wrote.
Fulp's punishment came as a result of a request from the church's pastor, Reverend Wanda Landcaster.
"I don't want him to go to prison," Landcaster said. "I think it will cause him more harm than good."
Landcaster told the judge she forgave Fulp for his actions. The two met outside the courtroom and embraced following the court's decision. Fulp than followed his attorney to an office down the hall.
"I think calling this an act of domestic terrorism is accurate," Cardwell said in an interview. "He caused fear in the community."
Cardwell said looking at the magnitude these fires had and its impact on the community it's a different story. There wasn't just one fire. Several other United Methodist churches were linked to this fire and deemed intentionally set.
"People slept in churches for weeks after to make sure their church wasn't next," Cardwell said.
Cardwell and his staff worked with the other churches trying to help prevent another catastrophe. The sheriff's office added patrol during those months.
"For all the time and effort everyone put into this, I feel justice wasn't served," Cardwell said.
Cardwell wanted it known many of the firefighters volunteered their services. They left their families during the holidays to fight fires and few received any compensation for it.
Fulp only received charges for causing one of the church fires. Cardwell fears the other arsonists now expect the same punishment.
"This set a precedent," Cardwell said. "It gives the ability to get away with it with only a slap on the wrist."