WORCESTER, Mass. - Joseph E. Mullen, arrested last January after confessing to burning down the Grafton home of Robert and Kathy Benoit, pleaded guilty on Friday in Worcester Superior Court.
Mullen, 30, was sentenced to five years with no parole for one count of arson and five years probation for one count of breaking and entering. He waived his right to a trial and after the sentence hearing was sent to MCI Cedar Junction at Walpole.
The district attorney recommended eight to 10 years for the arson charge and five years probation for breaking and entering.
Judge James Lemire said the five year sentencing was the maximum he could give under the guidelines stipulated under Massachusetts law.
Kathy Benoit, crying outside the courtroom after the sentencing, said, “He gets to walk in five years and I don’t have a home to live in.”
On Jan. 13, Mullen broke into Beniots' Countryside Road home after Robert Benoit went to work and Kathy Benoit ran an errand. Mullen then doused their living room sofa with gasoline and lit it with a match, destroying the house, its contents, and killing two dogs and a cat.
During the sentencing hearing, Mullen was described as emotionally disturbed and obsessed with the Benoit's daughter, who he only knew casually and had not seen in nine years.
Before the sentencing, Benoit read an emotional appeal to the judge expressing the pain Mullen’s crime produced. While she read, Mullen sat handcuffed in a holding pen dressed in black prison garb.
Here is an excerpt:
“I received a call from my neighbor while I was on an errand, who was crying because she thought I was home. I worried about my animals. I called my husband who said, ‘everything is going to be OK.’
"When I got home I couldn’t process what was happening. There was black smoke and firefighters everywhere. The Grafton fire chaplain told me my pets were gone but that they probably died quickly from the smoke.
"It was one of the few times I saw my husband cry.
"Neighbors came over, some putting money in my pocket, others bringing coats for us to wear.
"Our cat, Carmen, was found barely alive. The vets at Tufts were kind to us and reduced the medical bill, which was eventually paid by an anonymous donor.
"That evening, I cried all night. It was a humbling experience to witness the outpouring of support.
"After the fire was out, we sifted through the the rubble for the jewelry Bob gave me on each vacation we went on together.
"He was determined to rebuild and missed work to get it done. But three months later, Bob was diagnosed with cancer. Even from the hospital bed, he would mumble out measurements for rebuilding our home. We hoped to get him home before he died.
"As we took him to his final resting place, we drove him by the house one last time, knowing his heart and soul was there.
"It will always loom in the back of my mind. My husband was robbed. He spent his last days agonizing over a home he never finished rebuilding."