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October 18, 2022 - 4:25pm

Judge calls convicted arsonist a 'danger to society,' sends him to prison for 10 years

posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, bataiva, news, notify.
Matthew Zakrzewski

It was one of the most significant sentences she's ever given out as a judge, Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini told convicted arsonist Matthew Zakrzewski right after telling him he was going to prison for 10 years.

Ten years was the maximum Cianfrini could give to Zakrzewski under terms of a plea agreement.

In August,  Zakrzewski admitted to arson 2nd and arson 3rd.

If a slip of the tongue is any indication of what was on her mind, she would have sent him to prison longer.  

She sentenced him to 10 years on the arson 2nd conviction and then said she was sending him to prison on arson 3rd for 7 1/2 to 15 years.

A couple of minutes later, she caught her mistake and amended the arson 2nd term to five to 10 years.

Cianfrini called Zakrzewski a danger to society.

"The system needs to have you under supervision for as long as possible to ensure society's safety and security," Cianfrini said.

Both sentences will run concurrently.  Zakrzewski also faces five years on parole once he's released.

Part of Cianfrini's reasoning includes Zakrzewski's lengthy criminal record, which she characterized as escalating in severity, including a DWI and an assault, along with his failure to abide in the past with terms of his release.

She acknowledged Zakrzewski's substance abuse and mental health issues but told him he should use his time in prison to rehabilitate himself. 

"Prison can't make you do anything," Cianfrini said. "They can't force you to take classes. They can't force you into counseling.  It's up to you to do those things on your own."

The 42-year-old Batavia resident admitted to starting a fire at Washington Towers on Jan. 16, among other crimes on that date and preceding days.

The fire caused more than $10,000 in damage (Zakrzewski was ordered to pay restitution) but District Attorney Kevin Finnell said it could have been much worse.

"We were moments away from a disaster," Finnell said. "There's no excuse, reason, substance abuse, mental health issues, that can excuse starting that fire in an apartment building filled with older residents who could have lost their lives."

Defense Attorney Fred Rarick pointed to Zakrzewski's long history of mental health issues and a system, he said, that hasn't done much to assist him.  He asked for a five-year prison term.

Zakrzewski apologized for his actions and admitted his struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.  He said what he did at Washington Towers wasn't really who he is.

"Thank God, nobody was seriously hurt or killed," Zakrzewski said.

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