MONROE - A Lambertville teenager who torched two unfinished homes and took an ax to a utility pole to make a statement against urban sprawl was convicted yesterday in Monroe County Circuit Court of arson and malicious destruction of property.
Michael W. Sykes, 17, pleaded no contest to two counts of arson of real property for deliberately setting fires two days apart in March that destroyed homes under construction in Bedford Township.
The former Bedford High School student also entered no-contest pleas to one count of malicious destruction of property for trying to chop down a Consumers Powers pole along Sterns Road and malicious destruction of police property for damaging his cell in the Monroe County jail in May.
Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., found the teenager guilty and ordered him to return to court on Aug. 7 for sentencing on the four felonies.
Sykes of 7472 Canterbury Drive was arrested on March 16 when he attempted to siphon gasoline from the unmarked vehicle of a sheriff's detective who was on surveillance in an effort to catch the arsonist.
The teenager confessed to authorities that he was responsible for the fire at an unoccupied condominium on Fountain Circle in Crystal Waters Villas off Douglas Road on March 12 and the blaze two days later on Brentridge Lane.
At the time of his arrest, Sykes told detectives he was an environmentalist and was concerned with development and construction of new houses in the area. He said the homes he started on fire were picked randomly.
Prosecutor Bill Nichols said Sykes faces a minimum sentence of 3 to 5 1/2 years and the conviction carries a maximum punishment of 10 years. The plea agreement also calls for the teenager to pay restitution to the victims.
"He pleaded to all counts as he was charged," Mr. Nichols said.
None of the victims whose homes were destroyed by the arsonist was present in court for the pleading. Brian Wagner, who is the owner of the home that is being rebuilt on Brentridge, said he was satisfied the case has been resolved with a conviction.
"I hope that he can get some help and that when he gets out of prison he will be a changed person," Mr. Wagner said.
Mr. Wagner said that he and his wife had to delay selling their Sylvania Township home and drop the asking price while they restarted construction of their dream home. He said they hoped to move into the house in early August.
"You can't imagine what we went through," he said. "We get a little nervous anytime that we smell smoke. It is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life."
Sykes also confessed to detectives that he set an arson fire behind the Kroger store at Sterns and Secor roads in Lambertville in 2006 that destroyed a semi trailer and filled the store with smoke and that he torched a boat and trailer that same year.
The teenager also admitted to stealing an American flag from a Lambertville residence and painting the anarchist symbol - the letter "A" inside a circle - on it. The flag was found slightly burned in a wooded area near the suspect's home in March.
He was not charged in connection with any of those incidents.
As a juvenile, Sykes was found delinquent in connection with arson for setting fire to a field in Whiteford Township in 2006. He told detectives that he tired of seeing forest being destroyed for the construction of new homes.
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