A 17-year-old autistic boy who killed his toddler half-brother after setting his house on fire has publicly cried in court as he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Jacob ‘Matthew’ Morgan wept as he pleaded guilty to setting fire to 14-month-old Joshua Hill in March 2015.
The teenager’s family, from Rock Hill, South Carolina, have sided with their eldest son since his arrest and his mother, Julie Hill Dover, challenged his innocence in court today Tuesday.
‘We have always believed in his innocence. Because we know our son, we know the evidence against is terrible, but in my heart I know that my son, my eldest son, is innocent,’ she said.
‘He loves his brother. All he wants is an older brother. He had to live with his brother for 14 months, which isn’t long enough for any of us, but it’s a tragedy,’ she added, according to The Herald.
Mrs Hill Dover and her husband Myke Hill – Morgan’s stepfather and Joshua’s father – left Morgan to look after Joshua and said the 17-year-old was asleep when the fire broke out.
Associate Attorney Willy Thomson said at the previous hearing that Morgan was waiting outside the house when it burned, not calling for help or saving his brother, all of which displayed malice.
But Morgan’s parents said he was told by neighbors to stay away from the fire, who held him back as he tried to go back inside to save his brother.
They also argued that Morgan, who also had developmental problems and had difficulty reading or writing, admitted to arson by force after a five-hour, undocumented interrogation.
Investigators said Morgan provided them with several different accounts of how the fire started.
At first, he said he had accidentally thrown a pillow near the fireplace, but then he said he had lit the pillow on fire and sent it into the air, authorities said.
Fire experts said evidence suggested two fires had started, with one in the living room and another on a blanket in the master bedroom, where Joshua was sleeping.
Prosecutors also argued that Morgan told police he was mesmerized by fire and set one on fire in his home two weeks earlier.
Mr Thompson said: ‘The defendant ultimately admitted that… he never slept again… that he was playing with tea candles and that he was lighting them and had a passion for fire.’
At last year’s preliminary hearing, Morgan burst into tears and fell to the floor as prosecutors talked about the trailer park fire that killed Joshua.
The teenager wept in court again on Tuesday as he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, unlawful conduct against a child and third-degree arson.
For the arson charge, he used Alford’s plea – whereby he accepted the punishment for the offense but did not admit responsibility for it.
He was initially charged with murder, but this was dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Speaking in court upon conviction, Morgan said: ‘I love my brother. I still do to this day, he is my best friend. To kill him, would be to kill a part of myself. He’s the only brother I’ve ever had and I just wish I could get to him in time.’
Morgan was jailed for 5 years for involuntary manslaughter and 10 years for unlawful conduct. The sentence will run consecutively, meaning he will face 15 years in prison.
He was also sentenced to 15 years for arson, however this was suspended for 5 years of probation.
Mr Hill spoke after the hearing and said Morgan was not a ‘cold-blooded killer’.
“The kid called his mother at work, crying because one of the newborn kittens was sick and he thought he was going to die,” he said.
‘I won’t let any sheriff, any investigator say to my face that he’s a cold-blooded killer when he cries in Disney movies.’
Morgan’s attorney said the teenager was a “very tender soul” and would struggle behind bars, adding that the case was one of the most difficult he had ever handled.