AUGUSTA — Jason K. Brown, 30, formerly of Skowhegan and Augusta, will spend the first half of a 14-year sentence behind bars for setting fire to an Augusta building where two people were sleeping.

Brown pleaded guilty Thursday in Kennebec County Superior Court to arson and aggravated criminal mischief in the Aug. 24, 2013, fire at a house on Fairfield Street in Augusta. The occupants escaped from the building and were not injured.

Justice Robert Mullen sentenced Brown to 14 years in prison with all but seven years suspended and four years’ probation, which was recommended by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney.

Mullen said a letter from one of the victims, James W. McKenna Jr., talked about what a terrible ordeal he had been through because of Brown’s actions that night.

“But for a fortuitous chain of events, you could be standing here charged with murder,” Mullen told Brown.

In court, Brown said he could not recall why he set the blaze.

“I was pretty much out of my mind, heavily sedated on alcohol,” he told the judge. Brown also said he attempted to send an apology through his sister to McKenna.

In exchange for the guilty plea, Assistant District Attorney Frayla Schoenfeld dismissed charges of attempted murder and a second arson count, which also were listed in the indictment.

Conditions of probation ban Brown from having alcohol, illegal drugs, incendiary devices and contact with McKenna and the other tenant as well as the building owner. Brown also was ordered to pay $1,150 restitution for damages.

Schoenfeld said the victims opted not to come to Thursday’s hearing.

She told the judge that if the case had gone to trial, McKenna would have testified that he and Brown had just ended a relationship and been arguing for several weeks.

“(McKenna) was asleep in his apartment, heard a bang, and woke up,” Schoenfeld said. McKenna realized the building was on fire and he and a second tenant both got out.

Schoenfeld also said that a couple Brown was staying with would have testified that Brown was intoxicated on Aug. 24, 2013, and said he was going to kill McKenna.

That couple said their gas can was missing, and an investigator with the Office of the State Fire Marshal would have testified that the fire was set at three different locations and that gas was used as the accelerant.

A judge at an earlier hearing had rejected defense attorney Adam Sherman’s bid to suppress an 18-minute tape of an interview with Brown that was done at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta three days after the blaze.

In it, Brown tells Augusta Police Officer Tori Tracy that he was “messed up” and angry and that he set the fire, which was reported at 1:12 a.m. at 11 Fairfield St.

Brown tells her he had taken 20 150-mg Wellbutrin pills (an anti-depressant) and had been drinking beer at a Bangor Street cemetery before the fire.

At that hearing Tracy testified that she had been searching for Brown to check his welfare and question him because he had disappeared after the fire. She also said city police had previously found him in a ditch as a result of an apparent overdose.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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