MONROE - A Lambertville teenager who originally told authorities he burned unfinished homes as a statement against urban sprawl gave little explanation in court yesterday as to why he committed the crimes.
Michael Sykes, 17, who was sentenced in Monroe County Circuit Court to 4 to 10 years in prison, told Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., that he was going through emotional problems when he set two Bedford Township homes on fire and attempted to chop down a utility pole in March.
In a voice that was barely audible, Sykes said the psychological issues began several years earlier and his parents had gotten him treatment through professional counseling.
However, the teenager gave no mention of being an environmentalist or being concerned with housing growth in the township - or the cutting of timber - as he initially told authorities.
He made the statements earlier this year after he was arrested when trying to siphon gasoline from a sheriff deputy's unmarked vehicle.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Costello said psychological reports provided to the court by the teenager's attorney indicated Sykes is "a very troubled juvenile" and lacks maturity in his emotions and the ability to the conform to laws of the community.
"But, he still presents a risk," the judge said. He said the sentence would discourage others from engaging in similar acts and would rehabilitate the defendant.
The former Bedford High School student pleaded no contest on July 11 to two counts of arson of real property for deliberately setting fire to an unoccupied condominium on Fountain Circle in Crystal Waters Villas on March 12, and a blaze two days later on Brentridge Lane.
Both homes were in township subdivisions and under construction.
Sykes, of 7472 Canterbury Drive, also pleaded no contest to malicious destruction of property for taking an ax to a Consumers Power pole along Sterns Road.
The teenager entered a no contest plea to one count of malicious destruction of police property for damage he caused in May when he attempted to chisel through a cement block in his cell.
Defense attorney Andrew Peth told Judge Costello that his client was capable of changing his behavior and being rehabilitated.
"Michael is a troubled youth, and I do emphasize youth," he said. "In spite of what he has done, he is not a lost cause."
Sykes' parents, Bob and Deborah Sykes, were in the courtroom and were joined by other supporters of their son, including Joyce and Clyde Trumbull, of Erie, Mich.
Mrs. Trumbull, who had an opened Bible on her lap, wore a paper sign that read: "Mike needs help not prison. Just a boy. Not a hardened criminal."
After the hearing, the couple said that a sentence fashioned to address Sykes' psychological issues would have been fitting.
"He has anger issues. He hasn't found an appropriate way to deal with them," said Mr. Trumbull.
Assistant county Prosecutor Michael Roehrig said the punishment imposed by Judge Costello was several months less than the sentence recommended by the prosecution.
"The sentence was fair and within the sentencing guidelines," he said.
Under state law, Sykes must serve the minimum amount of four years, and then he will be eligible to apply to state prison officials for parole.
Judge Costello also said that Sykes would be expected to pay restitution for the damage that he caused to the homes and utility pole, which authorities estimate at more than $400,000.
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