MAYVILLE - The legal roller coaster ride of Barak J. Cornell, the 57-year-old Panama man convicted of setting his neighbors' home on fire, came to an end Monday in Chautauqua County Court.
Cornell, cuffed and dressed in black and white prison garb, stooped with emotion as Judge Ronald D. Ploetz labeled his actions "horrendous," and handed him a 10-year determinate sentence with five years of post-release supervision - the result of a second-degree arson charge.
Nathaniel Barone, Chautauqua County public defender, said he was satisfied with the outcome, indicating that Cornell's original sentence was a staggering 25 years.
"(This was) a substantial reduction," Barone said. "It was an excellent result ... and we were very pleased with how things turned out."
Barone further indicated that Cornell's good behavior in jail, his military record, his physical, mental and substance abuse concerns (which were not specified) and his remorse for his actions helped reduce his 10-year sentence to approximately 8 years. Since he has already served more than six years in jail, he only has two years remaining.
Cornell initially pleaded guilty on Dec. 8, 2008, 11 months after he allegedly spilled fire accelerants on the deck of his neighbor's home and lit them with a cigarette.
The neighbor, Jeff Lubi, was reportedly sleeping inside with his family at the time. All of them safely escaped.
The Lubi family, appearing in court for the sentencing, watched as Cornell gave his pre-sentencing remarks.
"I'm sorry your house burned," said Cornell, teary-eyed. "I'm really thankful that you're alive and okay. I'd like to help you build a new house. I just want to go home and do good ... I just want to make things right."
The Lubi family issued the following statement:
"We, the Lubi family, are extremely disappointed in the court's efforts to entice Mr. Cornell to accept a plea agreement and unanimously believe that the plea agreement of a 10-year term was an act of convenience and not justice served."
The statement continued:
"One year ago, we were secure in the knowledge that Barak Cornell would be in custody for 15 more years. We now have two years. Barak Cornell is a menace who will be thrust upon us simply because, in our opinion, it was the easy thing for the court to do."
Although Cornell was convicted in 2011, his guilty plea and sentence of 14 years in prison with five years of post-release supervision were appealed and overturned on procedural grounds.
He was convicted again in April 2011, with the additional charges of third-degree criminal mischief and three counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, all of which led to a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.
In October 2013, this again was appealed and overturned on procedural grounds.
Barone, who was not involved in the case back in 2011, stated that these procedural grounds primarily dealt with evidence, wherein the appellate division believed "certain things were conducted incorrectly."
Cornell, who was being held at the Attica Correctional Facility, will likely be transferred to another facility as per the discretion of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, Barone said.