CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A South Charleston man accused of setting two fires at an apartment complex last year pleaded guilty in Kanawha Circuit Court, but insisted he is innocent.
A trial for Nicholas Hatfield, 21, was scheduled to begin this week. Instead, Hatfield entered a Kennedy-Frazier plea and was sentenced immediately to probation.
In that type of plea, a defendant may not admit guilt but concede prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him at trial and believe the move is in his best interests.
Hatfield pleaded guilty to a felony charge of first-degree arson in connection with a December fire at the Vickers Park Apartments on Amity Drive. No one was injured, but the building sustained $1,000 in damage.
Hatfield told Circuit Judge Charles King Tuesday, "I am a man of God, sir. I am an innocent man of this, but I want to use this as a testimony to other people."
Assistant Prosecutor Joey Spano said two fires were set in the laundry room and the office of the complex. He said when firefighters from Davis Creek Volunteer Fire Department responded, Hatfield asked them why it took them 20 minutes to arrive compared to the national average of seven minutes.
Spano said the fire chief suspected Hatfield and asked him how he knew when the fires started.
In an interview with state troopers, Hatfield at first denied any knowledge of the fires. But in a second interview, Spano told the judge, Hatfield confessed.