Protestors outside the courthouse. (Detroit News)
Detroit — Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Calahan on Friday upheld the original 41-62 year sentence given to a man accused of causing the fire that killed Detroit firefighter Walter Harris in 2008.
Detroit businessman and property owner Mario Willis was found guilty in 2010 in the death of Harris. Willis was convicted of paying another man $20 to set the blaze at an abandoned east side house which killed Harris, who was working to extinguish the fire at the home on East Kirby.
Harris, who was 37 years old, died when the roof of the home collapsed on him the night of Nov. 15, 2008.
Harris was convicted of second-degree murder and arson in April 2010 following a week-long during which jurors heard testimony about how Willis paid Darian Dove $20 to torch the house because the mortgage and property taxes were $9,600 in arrears. Willis had owned the property but sold it to his fiance in 2006.
Dove, who was convicted in the case, also testified that it was the second time he had set fire to the house for Willis. An official from the loan company for the home testified during the 2010 trial that both Willis and his girlfriend received $26,000 from the insurance company for a payout for the first fire on the home in Sept. 2007.
Willis also received 10-20 years for arson in the case Friday.
Willis had been sentenced to the lengthy prison sentence in 2010 but he appealed the sentence to the Michigan Court of Appeals saying the sentence was too stiff. The state Court of Appeals ordered another hearing in the case in November 2012.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Stevens said during Friday’s re-sentencing hearing that Willis was a “cold, calculating and callous” person who paid “minions and flunkies” to do his dirty work while he kept his own hands clean.
Calahan’s courtroom was packed Friday with uniformed firefighters. Harris’ widow, Syri, who sat among them, said she was glad the sentence was upheld but that attending Friday’s hearing brought back the trauma and pain from the night Harris died.
Syri Harris said she and her sons are moving forward but that it’s been hard.
“It’s been traumatic. My six boys have been though a lot,” said Syri Harris. “We just continue to focus on the vision my husband had for our family and to keep moving forward.”
Detroit fire battalion chief Steve Kirschner was emotional talking about the loss of Harris to the department, saying he loved Harris and individuals like Willis are part of the problems the city faces with blighted and dangerous properties.