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Man admits setting fire at curry eatery

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A Salt Lake man on Wednesday admitted in federal court to setting fire to a Salt Lake Pakistani restaurant in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

James Michael Herrick, 31, pleaded guilty to "interference with a federally protected activity."

By pleading guilty, Herrick admitted he targeted the restaurant because of its owners' race, color or national origin.

Herrick told police he set fire to Curry in a Hurry, knowing the owners were from Pakistan and because of the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., court documents state.

"I got upset over what happened and did something very stupid," Herrick said Wednesday.

In exchange for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors will recommend Herrick be sentenced on the light end of federal guidelines for accepting responsibility for his behavior.

Herrick, who also faces state charges for the Sept. 15 fire at Curry in a Hurry, 2020 S. State, will be sentenced Jan. 7. He faces up to 10 years in prison. Prosecutors will also ask that Herrick's sentence run concurrently with any sentence imposed in state court.

He is scheduled to appear in 3rd District Court Nov. 8 for a roll-call hearing on one count of first-degree felony aggravated arson. The charge carries with it a possible life prison term.

Herrick told police he bought gasoline from a nearby 7-Eleven, poured it into two jars, lit the fuel and drove away, according to court documents. Witnesses in the crowded restaurant took down Herrick's license plate and police later arrested him at his residence.

The small fire on an outside wall of the restaurant was quickly put out by a customer and the rear of the building was only slightly scorched.

Federal prosecutors will not seek restitution for damage to the restaurant. Assistant U.S. Attorney Henri Sisneros said Wednesday the damage was strictly cosmetic and a "good Samaritan in our community" has already repainted the area.

E-MAIL: awelling@desnews.com