A Clover teen, whose 2015 arson spree terrified neighbors and threatened the lives of his family when he tried to burn down his own house, was sentenced to 25 years in prison Thursday.
Matthew Adkins, 17, pleaded guilty but mentally ill in November to the burglary and arson of three houses, including his own, which he set fire while his parents and sister were inside. He faced a minimum of 15 years in prison.
A defense psychiatrist said in court that what Adkins did was “pyromania.” Prosecutors argued that Adkins was and is a threat to the public.
Adkins’ life has worth, said Judge Dan Hall, but his mental problems and actions have shown that the public must be protected, and it is impossible to predict the future behavior of a 17-year-old.
“There were attempts to try and control his behavior and they just couldn’t do that,” Hall said.
Hall said even though it is clear Adkins has “mental health issues,” the law is clear and the only option available was that Adkins must go to prison.
Adkins will be sent to a prison mental facility for evaluation and treatment, court testimony showed.
Adkins initially denied involvement after police targeted him because he lived near the other homes that were burned. But he later admitted to police that he set the fires. His adoptive father caught him sneaking in a window after setting his own house on fire days after another fire.
Adkins apologized in court Thursday, saying, “I would take it all back if I could.”
Adkins said he was trying to get his high school diploma and if given a second chance to be a productive person, he would take it.
“I want to be the best I can be,” Adkins said.
But prosecutors, who wanted a long prison sentence, argued that Adkins was a threat to society now and would be for the rest of his life.
“My deepest concern is for the people of York County,” said Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit Solicitor. “He simply could not control himself. He was a slow-motion train wreck.”
Cathy Norman, whose home and belongings were destroyed by Adkins, tearfully told the court she lost her family history and that she would never feel safe if Adkins gets out of prison.
Norman said, “I do not hate him ... As long as Mr. Adkins doesn’t roam free I will feel safe.”
But Adkins’ lawyer, 16th Circuit Deputy Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough, asked for the minimum 15-year sentence, arguing that with the right medication and treatment, Adkins could be a productive person. Barrowclough also said Adkins was just a week over age 16 when the fires happened and, if just a week younger, he would have faced a juvenile justice system where penalties are far less “draconian.”
“There are ways to treat it, to throttle down the engine of compulsion,” Barrowclough said.
Adkins’ adoptive parents did not speak, but in a letter to the court, they voiced concerns for his safety in prison.