NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. — A former New York firefighter said stupidity, not racism, spurred him to set a fire that destroyed a black colleague’s apartment.
Matthew Jurado was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for the blaze at Kenneth Walker’s home last August. Jurado pleaded guilty in May to arson.
“What happened was a moment of stupidity and not thinking,” Jurado said Friday. “I will be sorry for as long I live.”
Jurado and Walker were neighbors and members of different volunteer fire companies in North Tonawanda, near Niagara Falls. Walker is North Tonawonda’s only black firefighter; Jurado is white.
Days before the August 2016 fire, Walker got a racist letter threatening him if he didn’t resign. But the letter was never linked to Jurado, who said “it hurts me that some people said this was racial.”
He told police he was angry that Walker didn’t get him a post with Walker’s fire company. Jurado had been let go from his own fire company.
“I’m not going to consider this as a hate crime. It seems to me, though, that more accurately it’s a jealously crime,” Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said.
Walker said he’d tried to help Jurado, whom he’d considered a friend. In fact, he’d asked Jurado to check on whether Walker and his family had locked their door on Aug. 3, when Jurado instead found the door unlocked, went in, doused the Walkers’ couch with lighter fluid and set it ablaze.
The Walkers lost their two cats and all their belongings in the fire, and Kenneth Walker said it “uprooted our sense of security.”
“This was justice for me,” Walker told reporters, “seeing him finally pay for what he did.”