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Dickinson church arsonist sentenced to 6 years

local Dickinson,North Dakota 58602 http://www.thedickinsonpress.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/32/1024/copy-0803-whitworth-joshua.jpg?itok=l1FZgEkz
The Dickinson Press
Dickinson church arsonist sentenced to 6 years
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

A judge sentenced a 21-year-old Dickinson man who set fire to a church to six years in prison during a hearing at the Stark County Courthouse Tuesday.

Joshua Whitworth was charged with burglary, theft of property and arson after breaking into the Church of Christ in Dickinson, stealing $130 and starting a fire to destroy evidence in December, according to a criminal complaint.

The fire gutted the church and displaced its members.

"I know I made a mistake and I'm willing to accept the consequences for it, but to me I feel like it was an accident," Whitworth said at the hearing.

He pleaded guilty to burglary and arson as part of a proposed plea agreement in June, which stipulated he get a 10 year sentence with four years suspended. The agreement also dismisses the theft of property charge, as well as a charge of corruption of a minor from another incident.

Judge Zane Anderson ordered a presentence investigation in June.

Stark County Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Ehlis said she spoke with a pastor from the Church of Christ regarding the plea offer.

"He forgives Mr. Whitworth for his actions, but feels that the offer that the state made is appropriate and that there needed to be some consequence," Ehlis said.

Whitworth's attorney, Jay Greenwood, said Whitworth was under the influence of drugs.

"This was a tough one as far as for me and my client accepting the plea offer," Greenwood said. "There was some question as to my client's stable mind. My client was extremely intoxicated or 'out of his mind' on controlled substances."

He and Whitworth hoped the offer would have included less jail time, Greenwood said.

Anderson denied Greenwood's request to allow Whitworth to continue to be out on $20,000 bail until Tuesday.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to allow him the one week to get some of his affairs in order and to be with his family prior to leaving for the department of corrections for this period of time," Greenwood said.

However, Ehlis said Whitworth may flee.

"I had gone through Mr. Whitworth's record and had counted 25 bench warrants that had been issued for his arrest over the years for his failure to appear," Ehlis said.

Anderson sided with Ehlis

and ordered he be incarcerated

immediately.

"He may do something impulsive that he may later regret," Anderson said.

He also wants Whitworth to have chemical dependency and psychological assessments. Greenwood agreed Whitworth should receive treatment.

"That's always been an issue with Josh is the alcohol and substance abuse and mental health," Greenwood said.

Whitworth must pay $1,956 in court fees, fines and restitution, which will cover the deductable the church paid for damages and the cash he stole.

He will get credit for time served and be on probation for five years after his release.

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