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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Man set afire asks leniency for teen

Apology, handshake and a 10-year term

John C. Palmer, 17, second from left, stands in court Thursday and faces his victim, Peter Krueger, whom Palmer set afire  while Krueger was sleeping near downtown Spokane in 2009. (MEGHANN M. CUNIFF)
John C. Palmer, 17, second from left, stands in court Thursday and faces his victim, Peter Krueger, whom Palmer set afire while Krueger was sleeping near downtown Spokane in 2009. (MEGHANN M. CUNIFF)

A teenager who burned a homeless man in a dispute over beer money received a plea for leniency from an unusual source Thursday in Spokane County Superior Court.

Peter H. Krueger, the man John C. Palmer badly burned in May, urged a 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 teen said.

Before Judge Maryann Moreno sent him to prison for 10 years, Palmer 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.

“This is a very harsh sentence, but you need to learn how to live a productive life,” Moreno said.

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