By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
A man accused of setting fires in an EKU dorm last year went from facing the possibility of life in prison to a chance he will serve no time in prison as long as he follows the terms of a mediated plea agreement.
Samuel McFarland, 20, of Williamsburg, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree criminal mischief, first-degree wanton endangerment and second-degree possession of a controlled substance (amphetamine).
Charges of first-degree arson, a Class A felony with a possible sentence of 20 years to life in prison, and promoting contraband were dismissed.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Smith recommended sentences of three years each for the criminal mischief and wanton endangerment felonies, to run concurrently with a 12-month sentence for drug possession. Smith also recommended the entire sentence be diverted for five years if McFarland followed the terms of a mediated agreement.
The plea deal was crafted through the court’s felony mediation program. Both the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and McFarland’s defense attorney presented summaries of their cases to a senior judge who then assisted both sides, with input from the victimized party, to come to an agreement about the appropriate punishment.
McFarland must pay a “reasonable” restitution to the university, the details of which have not been finalized, according to Smith. She did say an amount of $40,000 had been discussed with school officials, the majority of which was to repair damage caused by water from the sprinklers.
During the supervised five-year diversion, McFarland must undergo alcohol and drug testing and an evaluation, have a mental health evaluation, comply with treatment recommendations and have no further violations of the law, according to the mediation agreement.
If McFarland violates any of those provisions during the next five years, he will have to serve the three-year prison sentence.
During his change-of-plea hearing, McFarland said sprinklers were going off in his room on Oct. 14, 2011, and he hit them with a broom in an attempt to disable them. He also said he used scissors to cut the wires in the sprinklers.
“I tried to stop them because there wasn’t a fire anymore,” McFarland said.
When Judge Jean C. Logue asked how the fires started, McFarland said “I have no idea about that.”
Smith said McFarland’s explanation was sufficient for the guilty plea to the amended charges.
McFarland was originally accused of setting fire to two hallway bulletin boards in Commonwealth Hall, according to EKU spokesperson Marc Whitt. The sprinkler system activated, and the building was evacuated with no injuries, Whitt said.
McFarland’s sentencing is set for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 7.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.