WTF: Coatesville Arsonist Set Free After Copping Plea

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INQUIRER: A former assistant fire chief accused in two Coatesville arsons this year walked into the Chester County Courthouse yesterday in shackles and exited without them, free to go home. Under a plea bargain that surprised the judge, Robert F. Tracey Jr., 37, of Coatesville, received a sentence of 242 days – the time he had served – to 23 months in prison followed by eight years’ probation. Tracey admitted that shortly before midnight March 20, he set fire to a front-porch swing cushion at an occupied home in the 600 block of Madison Street before walking three blocks to the 100 block of Hope Street, where he tried to ignite a trash can. Judge Anthony A. Sarcione said he wanted to hear the reasons for the deal before he could accept it, and he spent most of the proceeding questioning all the participants, including investigators. “I’m having a hard time swallowing it,” Sarcione said midway through the hearing, adding that if Tracey had been convicted, such a light sentence “would have never crossed my mind.” However, both sides alluded to the risks of going to trial and called the plea bargain a difficult decision. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco said the commonwealth’s case hinged in large part on witnesses, none of whom saw Tracey, a 2004 officer of the year, light a fire. Responding to the judge’s questions about the panic that gripped the Coatesville area from 70 arsons over 14 months, including one fire that killed a woman and one that destroyed most of a block, Ost-Prisco called Tracey’s crimes isolated and “relatively minor.” More than half the arsons remain under investigation. MORE

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