WAPAKONETA — A young man who started a fire at a downtown Wapakoneta apartment building apologized to his victims Thursday before he was sentenced to 19 years behind bars.
“I regret what I have done. I am very sorry for causing (victims) to lose their homes and valuables. If I could take it back, I would,” Wesley Slaughter told the court prior to the imposition of sentence. “If I have to go to prison, I have to go to prison.”
Two of those victims stood in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court and said they hoped Slaughter got the help he so desperately needs while in prison.
Judge Frederick Pepple followed a joint recommendation submitted to the court earlier by Auglaize County Prosecuting Attorney Ed Pierce and Defense Attorney Gerald Siesel in sentencing Slaughter to the 19-year prison term.
Slaughter, 20, pleaded guilty in July to five counts of arson, admitting he started a fire on Dec. 23 at the Koneta Hotel in downtown Wapakoneta that left two dozen people homeless. The former hotel had to be demolished in June because of the structural damage from the fire.
He appeared in Auglaize County Common Pleas Court Sept. 20 for a sentencing hearing that ultimately never took place. Attorneys at that time cited a lack of final restitution figures that were to be included as part of Slaughter’s sentence.
Restitution was included as part of the sentencing hearing on Thursday. Pierce said five victims will share in $9,299, while nine agencies and departments who battled the blaze will divide nearly $23,000 in restitution.
Those agencies include the Wapakoneta Police Department, the Wapakoneta, St. Marys, Botkins, New Bremen, Uniopolis, Cridersville and Buckland fire departments and the state fire marshal’s office.
Wapakoneta firefighters were dispatched shortly after 11 p.m. Dec. 23 to the apartment complex that housed two dozen occupants. Firefighters found smoke coming from several windows of the building and flames coming from an apartment on the front of the structure. Slaughter was arrested the following morning and was charged with starting the fire.
Two of the former residents of the Koneta Inn took the witness stand Thursday to offer their thoughts prior to the imposition of Slaughter’s sentencing. Lisa Evans said Slaughter “should be held accountable for all he’s done to us … and himself.”
But Evans also said she had forgiveness in her heart for the young man shackled at the ankles and wrists in court.
“He needs help,” Evans told the judge. “I can’t give it to him, but I hope somebody can. I have forgiven him, but I want him to pay a consequence for this.”
Former resident Amy Andrus had similar sentiments.
She had undergone medical treatments that left her unable to walk for more than a month leading up to the fire and had just recently returned to work. On the night of Dec. 23, Andrus said she heard a knock on her door from first responders telling her to quickly leave the burning building.
“I couldn’t run out of the building; I had to walk slowly. And this was very difficult for my son and me to watch all our belongings being burnt,” Andrus said. “This has caused me a lot of anxiety. I have had a very hard time with this. But I still feel Mr. Slaughter should get the help he needs. I do forgive him.”
Siesel told the court there was “ample evidence that Mr. Slaughter was a troubled youth,” including several hospitalizations — some court-ordered — and diagnoses that Slaughter suffered from a schizophrenic disorder and general anxiety.
“The signs were there,” the defense attorney said.
Siesel said Slaughter stopped taking prescription medicines for those disorders and was smoking marijuana and K2 in the days and weeks leading up to Dec. 23, 2018.
“This is a troubled young man,” his attorney said.
Pepple spoke directly to Slaughter, telling him, “This is truly a tragedy, but it’s a tragedy of your own doing. But I cannot put you in a mental health facility. I don’t have that option.”