Judge: Sentence in firefighter's death stands

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County judge would not reconsider a six-year sentence for a man convicted last year of starting a fire near the Steven Wayne Smith Memorial Bridge, indirectly causing the death of a Davis Creek firefighter who fell from the bridge while trying to locate the blaze. Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman said Tuesday the sentence he originally levied against Charles Darren Roberts -- consecutive prison terms on charges of arson and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Joey King -- sent the "appropriate message" and declined a motion from Roberts' lawyers to essentially shave time from his punishment. In December 2011, Roberts ignited a cardboard box to catch a tire on fire, incidentally igniting 160 railroad ties beside the bridge. King was looking for the tire when he fell off the bridge, police said at the time. A grand jury indicted Roberts on murder charges. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to second- and third-degree arson and involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor.
Roberts' lawyer, John Carr, said his client has agreed to enter an intense in-house faith-based drug-treatment program when he gets out of prison. Prosecutors opposed Tuesday's motion, pointing out that Roberts will be eligible for parole in a year and three months anyway. With the requested reduction, he would have been eligible in nine months. "It is not a long sentence," Kanawha Assistant Prosecutor Dan Holstein said. Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.
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