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Arsonist sentenced to three years in prison

Posted: Wednesday, Jul 10th, 2013

Matthew James Aguilar

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — A teenage burglar who tried to cover up his tracks by setting fire to an unoccupied mobile home was sentenced on Monday to three years in state prison.

Matthew James Aguilar could have avoided the harsher penalty for the crime of burglary, since he has no prior felony convictions on his record as an adult.

The district attorney’s office, the probation department and the presiding judge also believed that the 18-year-old could have benefited from the Youthful Offender System’s services.

But Deputy Public Defender Christopher Light told the court his client would prefer a two-year Colorado Department of Corrections sentence, and 12th Judicial District Judge Michael Gonzales reluctantly imposed a longer term of three years.

Under the terms of his sentence, Aguilar must also pay $4,060 in restitution to Century Mobile Home Park.

Judge Gonzales acknowledged that the Youthful Offender System is not an easy program to complete. But he said he’s disappointed to hear the defendant say he doesn’t believe he can get through it.

“I’ll be honest with you: I’m sad,” the judge said.

Of all the pre-sentence investigation reports he’s read in the past year, Aguilar’s is one of the better ones, he said, noting that the author believed Youthful Offender System could help the young man.

However, Judge Gonzales said he would not follow the department’s recommendations if Aguilar is unwilling to put all of his effort into the program.

On the other hand, the judge said any prison term under three years would unduly depreciate the seriousness of Aguilar’s crime. A longer sentence would also protect the community from the defendant, he said.

Police arrested Aguilar within a matter of hours after they responded to a report of a March 18 burglary at the mobile home park on State Avenue.

When they arrived at the scene, they discovered that an unoccupied mobile home was on fire.

Investigators quickly determined the fire was an act of arson.

During their probe into the incident, officers interviewed a woman who identified herself as Aguilar’s relative.

The woman said she saw Aguilar rolling an entertainment center away from the mobile home; police also learned that Aguilar stole a television set and a VCR.

Officers found the items at a nearby resident’s mobile home. The occupant told them that a man with a star tattoo on his neck sold him the items.

When police first questioned the star-tattooed Aguilar, he gave them different accounts of what happened that morning. But he eventually admitted he started the blaze with a lighter, and that he took property from the mobile home, according to court records.

Speaking to the court on Monday, Light said that an 18-year-old doesn’t necessarily make the same judgments and decisions an adult does. But Aguilar realizes the crime was very serious, and he knows he could have hurt many people, Light said.

According to Light, Aguilar has a desire to do what’s right, and he doesn’t want to set himself up for failure or fall into the same old traps.

Light said his client wants to remove himself from situations where he’s easily influenced by other people, and isn’t sure if he could succeed in a local Community Corrections setting.

A similar sentence in the Denver area would be appropriate, Light said, but Aguilar was not screened for admittance into the program.

Aguilar blamed his poor decisions on problems with substance abuse, and said he’s hopeful that he’ll learn from his experience once he’s sentenced to prison.

“I’d like to man up to my wrong,” he said during very brief remarks to the court. “Yeah, I did this all because of drugs and alcohol.”

Judge Gonzales, who prosecuted both of Aguilar’s parents during his time as a former chief deputy district attorney, called the defendant a nice guy under normal circumstances. But Aguilar turns into a different person when he uses drugs, the judge said.

Still, the judge said he believes that Aguilar is the kind of person who can succeed during his eventual transition back into the community.

“There’s a whole life out there, and it doesn’t have to be a life behind bars,” he said.

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