Norwich man sentenced to seven years for setting four fires

Twenty-five-year-old Jonathan O. Ortiz was sentenced Wednesday in New London Superior Court to seven years in prison for setting four fires in Norwich two years ago that displaced dozens of people and resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Ortiz, who has been held in lieu of $800,000 while his case was pending, said he was sorry he “did wrong” and that he doesn’t “take it as a joke.”

According to the state, Ortiz and Nicholas R. Fauquet, 20, both of Norwich, used gasoline and matches to set fire to an occupied home at 124 Laurel Hill Ave. on March 22, 2012. Though the residents of the building escaped safely, two family pets, a bird and a dog, perished in the fire. Police said Ortiz set the fire because he suspected his girlfriend was going to that home to cheat on him. The Laurel Hill Avenue building is owned by the Reliance House and used as a clubhouse for activities for the agency’s mentally handicapped clients.

Ortiz also recruited Fauquet to help him set fire to a pickup truck at 500 W. Main St. on March 1, 2012, to get back at someone who owed him money for drugs. The fire extended to an occupied home, where six residents were sleeping.

Ortiz and Fauquet, along with two others, also torched a vacant house at 7-9 Oak St. and an occupied home at 11 Lake St. Those two fires displaced more than two dozen people, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and resulted in two firefighters being injured. Fauquet’s case is pending in the same court.

Noting a pre-sentence report indicated Ortiz had a rough childhood, prosecutor David J. Smith said Ortiz had grown into an adult who made bad choices and rejected repeated offers of help.

“The lifestyle Mr. Ortiz chose was one of drugs and interaction with a community that was dangerous, dysfunctional and criminal,” Smith said.

Ortiz’s attorney, Kevin C. Barrs, said the seven-year prison sentence was fair. He said he wonders how much of a choice his client really had, having grown up with abandonment issues and used legal and illegal drugs that were harmful. He said his client has had just brief moments of happiness in his life.

“Once you get out, you’re going to have to make the choice to do the right thing,” said Judge Hillary B. Strackbein. “Or this is your life, in and out of jail.”

Ortiz will be on probation for three years after he is released from prison and will be required to pay restitution of more than $200,000 to the insurance company for Reliance House should he come into a windfall.

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