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What you need to know for 01/22/2017

Luigi’s young arsonist to serve up to 6 years

Luigi’s young arsonist to serve up to 6 years

A Schenectady County Court Judge turned down a request for youthful offender status for a city teen
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A Schenectady County Court Judge turned down a request for youthful offender status for a city teen who admitted to torching the former Luigi's restaurant, saying the community needed to know about his actions.

Joseph P. Colon, still 16, of Brandywine Avenue, appeared this morning before Judge Karen Drago for sentencing.

Colon pleaded guilty in January to one count of third-degree arson, a felony. In exchange, Colon accepted a 2- to 6-year sentence.

The plea deal also included no provision for youthful offender status, which would have sealed Colon's conviction. Colon's attorney, Sven Paul, though, asked again to consider the status this morning, noting a pre-sentence report that showed Colon had "a very troubled upbringing."

"In my view, during his tenure at the county jail, he's done a lot of growing up and a lot of soul searching," Paul told the court.

Drago, though, responded that she had already taken Colon's age into account when accepting the 2- to 6-year offer. That was about the only reason she accepted it, she said.

Drago also noted that Colon has had "numerous" involvements in the juvenile justice system, with efforts to get him help that were to no avail.

With that, Drago said Colon's latest crime shows that behavior escalating. She called the arson case both abhorrent and alarming.

"I think the community needs to know about your behavior so we can protect ourselves from that behavior," Drago told Colon in denying the youthful offender status. "Hopefully you can turn this around and are amenable to get services so you can become a productive member of society."

In initially accepting the deal, Drago rejected a lower offer that included youthful offender status and a 1- to 3-year sentence. She called that offer then "woefully low."

Colon was charged about a month after the July 5 fire, accused of using a lighter, paper and accelerant to set the blaze inside 1127 Barrett St., the building that formerly housed the long-closed Luigi's restaurant.

By the time of the fire, the city of Schenectady had taken ownership of the property. Colon must pay about $20,000 in restitution, representing about half of the demolition costs.

Another defendant in the case, Kevin Zimmer, 22, is responsible for the other half. Zimmer pleaded guilty earlier to third-degree burglary for his role. He was sentenced in January to 90 days in jail and 5 years of probation.

Firefighters were called to the Barrett Street building and an adjacent brick home around 4 a.m. July 5, 2012. They brought the fire under control in about 2 hours.

Fire investigators determined a point of origin in the restaurant's old dining room, city fire Capt. Doug Faulisi has said. They also found a pour pattern, which eventually tested positive for an accelerant similar to lighter fluid, Faulisi said.

Investigators also ruled out accidental causes. The building didn't have power or gas, there was nothing being operated there and nobody lived there, Faulisi said previously.

Luigi's went out of business in 2007, a year after longtime owner Marlene Hill was killed by her mentally unstable grandson. The restaurant was then seized by the state Department of Taxation and Finance and its contents sold at auction. The building remained empty and had been slated for demolition.

Both buildings ended up in the hands of the Schenectady Urban Renewal Agency, which is headed by the mayor and City Council.

The case was prosecuted by John Healy.

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