A Rock Hill woman who set her boyfriend on fire inside a crammed apartment said in court Tuesdaythat she “never intended to kill him.” But a judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison after the 3 a.m. fire she intentionally set displaced more than 20 people – and could have been deadly.
“Only by the grace of God nobody was killed,” Circuit Court Judge Frank Addy said in handing down the sentence.
Fire officials and police had asked for a 15-year prison sentence, saying that Suyatta Johnson, 28, had a violent streak that put the lives of 12 families at Oak Hollow Apartments at risk when Johnson set the fire July 2, 2013. Days after the fire, Johnson told police she set it and that she stood over her boyfriend as he woke up on fire. She did it, Johnson said, “Just to show him I ain’t playing no games.”
The boyfriend ran out of the burning building after he woke up with his legs and back on fire. He was not seriously injured.
Johnson pleaded guilty to assault and battery and arson. She will have to undergo mental health counseling while in prison and on probation. In handing down the sentence, Addy described the scene of the fire as a “huge potential for the loss of human life.”
Police and fire officials described a chaotic scene. “People were screaming for help,” Rock Hill Police Detective Amy Jones said.
Rock Hill Fire Department Capt. Karen Kane described an inferno that required most of the city’s fire trucks and firefighters. A pregnant woman, her boyfriend, and an 8-year-old girl had to leap from the second floor balcony to safety, Kane said. Four Rock Hill Police officers pulled previously sleeping people out of the burning building.
“We can’t ignore the very dangerous position that she put all those people in,” prosecutor Misti Shelton said. “She (Johnson) had absolutely no regard for human life in that building.”
Johnson said of her boyfriend: “He was leaving me,”
“Things just kinds got outta hand,” Johnson said, adding she never meant to harm her boyfriend.