A suburban Philadelphia man was sentenced Tuesday to 30 to 60 years in prison after pleading no contest in arson cases, including a fire that killed an elderly woman.
George Donkewicz, 24, pleaded no contest due to mental illness in Chester County Court to third-degree murder, three counts of arson that endangered people and criminal mischief in fires from June 2007 to December 2008. The last fire in his home town of Coatesville killed Irene Kempest, 83, who had been imprisoned in a German work camp during World War II.
Under the plea agreement reached a few days before jury selection was to begin in the case, Donkewicz will be treated for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder while in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco said he was not surprised to hear relatives say the victim would have wanted them to be forgiving.
“We want to see things through her eyes and her heart and to believe that true love can conquer all. It doesn’t seek revenge,” said Cheryl Pluck, Kempest’s daughter-in-law, as other family members wept. “If she were standing here today, she would forgive. We are trying to uphold that.”
Judge Thomas Gavin called the resolution of the case appropriate and praised the work of police and firefighters. He also said the victim’s relatives were to be commended for their attitude.
“Clearly, someone who could live through war in a Nazi camp was a survivor,” Gavin said. “But perhaps more important was that she was able to instill the ability to forgive in her family.”
Donkewicz’s public defender, Sheryl Willson, declined comment.
Three other people have pleaded guilty in the arson spree that made national headlines; two others await trial. Ost-Prisco said only about 20 of the approximately 70 fires that plagued the city for 14 months remained unsolved.
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