A teenager who burned a homeless man in a dispute over beer money received a plea for leniency from an unusual source today.
Peter H. Krueger, the man John C. Palmer badly burned in May, urged a Spokane County Superior Court judge to go easy on the 17-year-old at his sentencing for first-degree assault.
“I don’t want you to go to prison. You’re too young,” Krueger told Palmer. “I just want to know why.”
Palmer didn’t have an answer.
“Since I’ve been locked up I’ve been asking myself the same question. I haven’t found the answer,” the boy said.
Before Judge Maryann Moreno approved recommendations from the prosecution and defense and sent Palmer to prison for 10 years, the teen apologized to Krueger and shook his hand. Physical contact with defendants generally is prohibited in court; Moreno and courtroom deputies made an exception Thursday
Palmer has been in Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center since May 18, two weeks after he set a blanket on fire and threw it on Krueger as he slept near Sprague Avenue and Sheridan Street, east of downtown.
Palmer told police he was upset that Krueger had kept the money Palmer had given him to buy beer. Krueger was burned on his face and hands and told Palmer on Thursday that he’s never been the same.
Krueger urged Moreno to spare Palmer from prison, but the boy’s first-degree assault conviction left the judge no room for leniency.
The charge, coupled with a weapons enhancement because fire was used, carries a standard range of at least 117 months in prison - just less than 10 years.
In court today, the boy wore a yellow shirt with "honor level" written on it in red letters, a sign of his achievements while in juvenile detention.
Palmer will have a counselor with the Department of Corrections.
"This is a very harsh sentence, but you need to learn how to live a productive life,” Moreno said.