A Juneau man who set a fire that destroyed a historic downtown church and a house was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison.
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Clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and bound in handcuffs, Robert Huber, 25, made no sound when Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins issued his sentence - 15 years, with eight to be served in prison and seven years of prison time suspended.
Collins also ordered Huber to pay restitution to the church, as well as the Edwards family, whose home was destroyed, and other property owners in the neighborhood. The amount of restitution has yet to be determined, but could be as much as $3 million, according to Marcelle McDannel, Huber's publicly appointed attorney.
After being singled out by a woman and ejected from a party, Huber set fire at 4:30 a.m. on March 12 to a boat parked in a driveway between a house and the historic Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Gold Street, according to investigators. The fire spread from the boat to the house and the church, razing them as well as the church's McPhetre's Hall, which frequently housed community events.
According to court records, the fire destroyed more than $2.25 million of property, and left several people without homes.
A man sleeping in the church the night of the fire, narrowly missed being killed. Seconds after he fled the burning church, fumes from the fire ignited, in what is known as a backdraft explosion. The blast was so powerful it knocked at least one nearby firefighter off his feet.
The fire has been described as an act of anger by prosecutor Doug Gardner and Huber's attorney.
In October, Huber pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree arson.
At the sentencing, Shelby Edwards, the owner of the destroyed home, talked about what the fire cost him and his family emotionally and financially.
"This event is the worst thing that has ever happened to us," he said.
The pastor of Holy Trinity, the Rev. Silides George, also spoke. He talked about how the fire changed his congregation. The fire led to division and a drop of membership, among other problems, George said.
"Mr. Huber took something he cannot take back," the reverend said.
Before the fire, Huber was a student at University of Alaska Southeast. He is also the son of a retired pastor of a local church.
George told the judge that Huber's life should not be characterized by his worst mistake. Then he talked about forgiveness the congregation offered to Huber. The church wants to help Huber rebuild his life.
"This gift of forgiveness is neither automatic or cheap," George said, then turned to Huber and added, "Mr. Huber, we forgive you."
Before being sentenced, Huber stood and read a statement as his mother wept.
"I know the fire destroyed things that can never be replaced. ... But to the extent my words can make any difference at all, I'd like to offer my sincerest apologies."
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