Justin Pease tried to describe his emotions to a judge Friday before he was sentenced to 26 years in prison for starting a potentially deadly fire after stabbing two people.
For about 45 minutes, Pease rambled on about his childhood, books he had read, medications he had taken and how they affected his behavior. He also apologized several times to the people who were affected by his actions the night of April 2, 2016. Several of them were in the courtroom.
“I'm deeply sorry,” he said during a 21/2-hour sentencing hearing. “I don't know how I can go back in time and change this. If I could, I would.”
Pease, 33, broke into his ex-girlfriend's home in the 2200 block of St. Marys Avenue and stabbed two people. He then barricaded himself in an upstairs bedroom and cut himself in the throat. He claimed he had a hostage.
When police arrived and began negotiating with Pease, he set the room on fire. Having been told about smoke and flames coming from the home, Fort Wayne police Officer Boyce Ballinger kicked in a door and found Pease, but no hostage.
Pease struggled with officers but was safely taken from the home.
Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred told Superior Court Judge Fran Gull that Pease would have died if it weren't for the actions of Ballinger and Officers Daniel Simpson and Josh Franciscy.
Simpson and Franciscy were treated for smoke inhalation, but Ballinger suffered more serious injuries. He was placed into a medically induced coma for a few days to recover.
Russ McCurdy, a Fort Wayne Fire Department arson investigator, testified Friday the three officers likely faced “super-heated” gases when Ballinger kicked in the door.
Mildred read a letter to the judge from Simpson's wife that said the couple and their family moved “clear across the country” to get a fresh start after the incident because of the trauma they endured.
Ballinger's voice quivered and he held back tears Friday as he described the support he received from fellow police officers.
“The day I got out of the hospital, I never tasted food so good or smelled air so fresh,” he said.
When asked by Mildred what type of sentence Pease should get, Ballinger asked that Pease receive help for his mental health issues.
Pease pleaded guilty last month to two counts of felony battery, three counts of felony arson and two counts of misdemeanor resisting law enforcement.
On Friday, he told the judge he never meant to hurt anyone and didn't realize what the officers had experienced until his sentencing.
“It's hard to comprehend what's going through my mind,” he said.
Gull handed Pease a 48-year sentence, with 26 years to be served behind bars and 22 years to be suspended. She also recommended he receive psychiatric treatment.
Gull said she accounted for Pease's seven felony and nine misdemeanor convictions and at least three parole violations.
Mildred said Pease's mental health issues aren't an excuse for what he did. The prosecutor also said he's thankful no one died in the fire.
“You clearly have a problem,” the judge told Pease. “You clearly have issues you've attempted to address. I'm not confident there's much the (Department of Correction) can do other than warehouse you.”