15-year term handed down in arson case

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Lewisburg man who was found guilty of aggravated burglary and arson after a jury trial in March was sentenced in Circuit Court Wednesday.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Collins asked for the maximum sentence for Mitchell J. Ford, 33, who's been in trouble with the law off and on since he was 22 years old.

Collins wanted Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler to sentence Ford to 15 years on each felony, to run consecutively, in other words, one after the other.

"Any other sentence will see Mr. Ford back in this courtroom sooner rather than later," Collins said.

Crigler did not entirely agree.

"No," he said, "I'm not running the two counts consecutively because they are so closely intertwined." The judge, however, did agree with Collins that the maximum sentence was warranted.

Crigler sentenced Ford to 15 years on each count, to run at the same time. As a "persistent" offender, Ford must serve 45 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole. This sentence will run consecutive to previous sentences of three and two years for which Ford was on state probation when he set fire to an unoccupied house on Old Lane Road in April 2010.

Crystal Gray of the Board of Probation and Parole was the prosecution's chief witness at the sentencing hearing. She could shed no light on Ford's state of mind at the time of the arson because he refused to be interviewed for her pre-sentence report, telling her he was "too emotional after his conviction to participate."

Nevertheless, Gray did detail Ford's criminal history, which started with a bank robbery in 2000. Less than a month after getting out of prison in 2003, he committed seven statutory rapes. Within six months of being freed after serving time on those charges, Ford was charged with driving under the influence, and later with evading arrest, criminal trespass, vandalism, domestic assault, and attempted robbery in Giles County.

Gray agreed with Collins that there had only been two years in Ford's life since he committed the bank robbery that he "didn't pick up a criminal charge."

"He's gotten new charges every time he's been on probation," Collins said.

Attorney Bill Harold of the Public Defender's Office, speaking in Ford's defense, cited the mitigating factor that Ford was a veteran of three years in the Army, and received an honorable discharge. There was no way to minimize Ford's criminal record, however, and Crigler denied Harold's request for a sentence "around 11 years."