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Judge orders report in arson case

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A district judge has ordered a presentence report for James Michael Herrick, who is accused of aggravated arson, a first-degree felony, in connection with his attempt to set fire to a Salt Lake Pakistani restaurant in retaliation for the events of Sept. 11.

James Michael Herrick, 32, pleaded guilty in October to the civil rights violation of "interference with a federally protected activity" after trying to set fire to the Curry in a Hurry Restaurant, 2020 S. State.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene sentenced Herrick to four years in federal prison.

Federal prosecutors and the federal judge had asked informally that any district court sentence on the state charge of aggravated arson be served in a federal penitentiary and be served concurrently with the federal sentence. However, a district judge is not bound by such requests.

Third District Judge Timothy Hanson said Friday that he was making no guarantees and ordered a state presentence report for Herrick after Herrick entered a guilty plea to the state arson charge.

"I'm not making any deals," Hanson said. "I'll make my decision as to whether the sentence should be consecutive or concurrent after I see the presentence report.

"Judge Greene doesn't get to make that call because I sentence last," Hanson said.

Thomas Rasmussen, Herrick's attorney, said Herrick would prefer a federal prison because they have more resources to help him with his alcoholism, which in large part fueled his behavior in committing the crime.

"Mr. Herrick made a huge mistake, but he is not an evil person," Rasmussen said.

Herrick, 31, is scheduled to be sentenced in district court March 29. He already is in federal custody.

He told police that he tried to set fire to the restaurant because the owners are from Pakistan and he was upset about the events of Sept. 11. Herrick told police that on Sept. 13, he bought gas from a 7-Eleven store, poured it into two jars, lit the fuel and drove off. Witnesses in the restaurant took down his license number and police later arrested him.

The fire outside the building was small and was quickly extinguished.

Herrick said in court Friday that "fortunately" people weren't in that part of the building at the time, that he was "pretty drunk" when committing the crime — although that is no excuse for what he did — and that he and his girlfriend had been frequent restaurant patrons.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com