Convicted arsonist Lynn Holdren is a free man, upsetting police and firefighters.
Holdren, now 65, set fire to his $170,000 Monroe Street home in June 1998.
He then failed to appear at his sentencing and fled for California where he was apprehended after assaulting a police officer.
For the assault, Holdren was sentenced to six years in prison, and in June 2000, he was sentenced to nine years for the arson to run at the same time.
Thursday, Visiting Judge J. Ronald Bowman granted Holdren judicial release and ordered five years probation.
Holdren made the request for release on the grounds that he has served six years of a nine-year sentence and made efforts to be a model inmate and to better himself.
Holdren expressed regret for his actions during his hearing at the Erie County Court of Common Pleas.
"I've made a lot of mistakes in my life -- burning my own house was a stupid mistake," he said. "I certainly meant no harm to anybody."
The judge questioned Holdren on his plans for employment upon release given his age. Holdren said he intends to finish his education and find a job in sales. He added that he desires to take care of his family, including his 85-year-old sister.
"I've lost nine years, but I've gained an eternity," Holdren told the judge, adding that since his incarceration he has become a Christian.
Glenn Szatala, president of the Sandusky International Association of Firefighters Local 327, said the union is opposed to early release for any arsonist.
Szatala was one of the firefighters who helped put out the blaze, during which he witnessed several firefighters suffer injuries and be transported to the hospital.
"I have no sympathy for the man, or any arsonist, who sets a fire," Szatala said, who was not at the hearing.
Holdren's attorney, Benjamin Chapman, has filed numerous motions for early release.
"He has done a significant amount of his prison term at this time," Chapman said at the hearing. "I think there's a tremendous amount of community support for him being granted judicial release."
Several family members and friends of Holdren attended the hearing.
"It's a longtime coming," said Ed Toomey, a friend of Holdren.
Comments in support of the release came from two attorneys and John Magnuson, who was serving as Erie County Sheriff at the time of the fire.
"I believe that he is a good and an honorable person who did a very stupid thing," said Peter McGory, attorney and friend to Holdren. "He pretty much had a clear record... prior to this. In my heart I believe he had no intention to hurt anybody physically or financially."
But Sandusky police Officer Ken Piotrowski disagreed.
He responded to the arson and stayed with Holdren as the house was burning.
Unknown to firefighters inside, Holdren had set up two propane tanks and spread a flammable liquid throughout the house.
Piotrowski told the judge a solid reason for the blaze was never established in the case, but that "there was a lot of financial issues going on with Mr. Holdren." His house was in the process of foreclosure at the time.
Dan Kasaris, assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, also spoke against the release.
"The defendant created a two-story bomb, endangering the lives and the property that surrounded his house," he said. "He stood by and arrogantly watched Sandusky's finest go into the property and put the fire out knowing that he had an internal bomb in the property."
McGory referenced Holdren's medical conditions in request for release. Holdren was suffering from congestive heart failure at the time of the blaze, he said, which has been found in some cases to cause depression. A higher level of medical care could be provided for Holdren outside of the penitentiary, he said.
"I believe he has been rehabilitated," McGory said, adding he believes depression prompted Holdren to start the blaze.
During his five years of probation, Holdren will be subject to unannounced drug and alcohol tests and will be under intensive supervision for the first year. He must also gain full-time employment and allow police to search his home whenever. He will also undergo a competency mental health examination.
"I'm making the conditions for community control about as stringent as I can," Bowman said.