A teenage Florida arsonist sentenced to write letters of apology to 200 victims who lost belongings in the fire he set has been shown mercy by the judge who meted out the unusual punishment.
Clyde Turner, 18, was ordered Friday to spend five months in a county jail and serve eight years of probation for setting a fire that damaged more than three dozen units in a self-storage facility in Holiday last winter.
He was facing a lot more jail time than that after pleading guilty last month to arson and burglary charges before Judge Pat Siracusa. The judge said he would levy a lighter sentence if Turner agreed to write apology letters to the victims, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
“I write this letter as an apology for my actions that have affected you and your family," the Holiday teen wrote to one victim, according to the paper. "I could write a trillion apology letters and it wouldn't ever make up for your belongings."
He drafted the letters on a yellow legal pad from his jailhouse bunk, the paper said.
“To give life to the words you wrote in those pages, get a job, work hard and do your best to make it right,” Siracusa said, noting the remorse Turner showed in the letters.
The teenager intended to burn the storage facility of his mother's abusive ex-boyfriend, but when he doused the unit with gasoline and lit a match in February, authorities say the fire spread to about 40 other units. He was a freshman in college at the time.
“You have a client who has a mind, body and soul that he can overcome the mistake he's made," Siracusa said to Turner and his attorney. "Success is a series of dedicated efforts every day. Failure, as you've learned, can be one big thing."
Turner still much pay more than $500,000 in restitution. If he violates his probation he could face up to 20 years in prison.
His family and friends said two prayers before entering the courtroom for the sentencing, one for Turner and the other asking God for the judge to be merciful.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.