PORTLAND – Thomas Cassidy stood before Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Moskowitz on Wednesday and said the hardships that led him to steal for his family, the drugs that helped him cope with his problems, were no excuse for the mistakes he had made.

Cassidy, 21, said he alone is responsible for setting fire to 15 cars in 2008, an unprecedented string of arsons on Portland’s peninsula that caused more than $500,000 worth of damage to the vehicles and nearby buildings.

“I’m pleading guilty because I want to take responsibility,” he said. “I just want to get past this.”

Moskowitz sentenced Cassidy to eight years in prison and four years on probation, less than the 10 years prosecutors had recommended. He also was ordered to pay $11,780 restitution for uninsured property losses.

Moskowitz said that he was impressed by how Cassidy accepted responsibility, and that he believed his remorse was sincere.

The judge said it was the first time in more than 20 years on the bench that he had seen a defendant ask the courtroom media to carry an apology to his victims, people who lost their homes or lost jobs because they had no way to drive to work.

“I can’t diminish the gravity of the offense, and anything less than eight years would do that,” Moskowitz said. “I don’t feel good about it at all.”

Cassidy’s family and his lawyer, Leonard Sharon, were persuasive in their bid for leniency.

Cassidy’s older brother, Granier Cassidy, blamed himself for moving to the West Coast and leaving Thomas to care for the family after their father committed suicide.

“He was always such a good kid,” Granier Cassidy said, weeping.

Cassidy’s mother told of how he cared for her after she was seriously injured in an assault. She worried that her cynicism, a product of her own difficult life, may have contributed to his behavior.

On April 11, 2008, Cassidy set out at 4 a.m. on Sherman Street. For nearly two hours, he wandered across the peninsula setting fire to cars, sometimes breaking into them and stealing items.

Some of the car fires spread, including one at 141 Sherman St. that ignited an occupied six-unit apartment building.

Assistant District Attorney Deb Chmielewski described how one of the occupants, a disabled woman, called emergency workers for help because she couldn’t get out.

Fortunately, Chmielewski said, nobody was hurt.

Cassidy was spotted near the scene of one of the last fires, and was found to have items that had been taken from one of the cars.

Cassidy ultimately pleaded guilty to 21 felony counts of arson. He says he has no memory of starting the fires, only of waking up in a puddle of vomit to the sound of fire engines.

Cassidy’s inability to know why he set the fires makes it hard to be sure he won’t do it again, the judge said.

The overall sentence was 22 years, with all but eight years suspended. If Cassidy violates probation after his release, he could be ordered to serve the entire sentence.

One person who spoke on behalf of Cassidy was his fiancee, Alicia Brown.

Brown and Cassidy have a daughter, born in April. They considered having an abortion but decided to keep the baby.

With time off for good behavior in prison, Cassidy could be released as his daughter is entering school.

“My (biological) father was never there when I was growing up. I don’t want to be that guy,” Cassidy said. “taking this plea, I know it may take time, but I will be there for my kid.”

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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