Defendant in arsons pleads guilty

A Grand Valley man entered guilty but mentally insane pleas before Judge Gregory Hammond on Friday to charges of arson at three residences, and criminal trespass at a fourth location.

The crimes occurred on Aug. 30 of this year.

The residences are located on Stoney Hollow Road, Dotyville Road, Flat Road and Sutton Road in Southwest Township.

Hammond said that on the basis of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Belinda Kelly’s report and stipulations of District Attorney Ross McKiernan and defense attorney Chad Vilushis, he agreed that James Slagter was mentally ill, suffering from psychotic affective and bipolar disorders.

He told Slagter he had the right to a trial by jury or judge, and he wouldn’t have to testify or present witnesses, explained reasonable doubt, although by pleading guilty, he would give up all those rights, except for the right to appeal to the Superior Court.

Hammond then asked Slagter if he understood his mental illness diagnosis and what was happening at the hearing, to which Slagter replied yes.

Hammond read the first count, arson and related offenses that endangered others, including firefighters as a first-degree felony. Losses for the three fires were estimated at $400,000. Hammond said the maximum sentence, even for guilty but mentally ill was 20 years and a fine of $25,000.

The second charge was criminal trespass, a third -degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of seven years and a $15,000 fine, which may run consecutively to the first charge.

When asked each time if he admitted to the crimes, Slagter said yes and pleaded guilty twice, then added guilty but mentally ill both times.