A Summit Hill man was sentenced Friday in Carbon County court to serve 18 to 36 years in a state prison for setting 16 brush fires in the spring of 2008 in the lower end of the county.
Frank Duane Swartz, 45, was sentenced to the term by President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II on 60 counts of arson and related offenses. A county jury of 11 women and one man found Swartz guilty of setting the fires in Lower Towamensing and Franklin townships and Parryville during a period of March 17 to April 18, 2007.
He was found not guilty of just six counts.
Yesterday, Swartz continued to claim his innocence.
"I still maintain my innocence. I respect the jury's decision, but I didn't do it," he told the judge.
"I understand what you say," Nanovic responded, "but the jury didn't believe you."
Nanovic said Swartz received a fair trial and noted that the defendant had confessed to the crime and even entered a plea agreement with the district attorney's office and pleaded guilty.
The plea bargain called for a state prison term of four to eight years on 16 counts. But before he would be sentenced, Swartz filed a petition to withdraw his plea and went on trial.
At the trial, Swartz testified he made the confession under duress because he was facing many personal problems and was pressured by police.
Defense Attorney Michael Gough asked the court not to consider the recommendation contained in the pre-sentence investigation prepared by the adult probation office that Swartz has not shown any remorse for what he did. Gough said Swartz still says he is not guilty and that is why he has not offered any remorse.
Gough also said he thought the recommendation of consecutive sentences on three of the set of charges amounting to over 15 years was "overkill."
Nanovic told Swartz he claims he is innocent but that claim doesn't exist because of the jury's decision. Nanovic said he would follow the recommendation of the probation office and sentence the defendant in the view of his guilt.
Assistant District Attorney James Lavelle, who prosecuted the case, said he was pleased with the sentence and said he felt it was appropriate considering the evidence.
The fires occurred at various locations in the two townships and borough. No one was injured in the fires and no buildings were damaged. One fire, however, burned close to a nursing home, which forced the evacuation of the elderly residents.
Trooper David Klitsch, a deputy fire marshal from the Hazleton barracks and chief prosecutor in the case, testified at the trial that Swartz confessed to him during an interview conducted at the Summit Hill police station in November 2008.
The Commonwealth also produced DNA evidence that matched that of Swartz's and that was found on a cigarette found at one of the fire scenes and a fingerprint on a match pack that belonged to the defendant and found at another fire scene.
The panel convicted Swartz of counts of arson-endangering persons, arson-endangering property, possession of incendiary material or devices, risking a catastrophe, and maliciously setting or causing fires.
The trial lasted over a week and the jury panel deliberated for 10 hours spread over two days.
In addition to the jail term, Nanovic ordered Swartz to supply a DNA sample and pay the $250 fee, get a mental health evaluation and follow any recommendation for treatment, have no contact with any of the victims or their property, and make restitution to the Blue Ridge Country Club, where most of the fires occurred and caused the most damage, in the amount of $1,132 for lost wages of employees.
Swartz was given credit for 1,132 days spent in jail on the charges.