A 31-year-old Arlington man was sentenced Friday to 18 to 20 months in state prison for starting a fire near an alcove where two homeless men were sleeping, a crime the Suffolk district attorney said defied explanation.
On Thursday, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat found Matthew Cody guilty of two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon but acquitted him of arson and attempted murder, concluding a one-day, jury-waived trial, according to a statement from the DA’s office.
Cody’s prison sentence will be followed by three years of probation, through which he will receive a mental health evaluation and drug and alcohol treatment.
During the trial, prosecutor David McGowan said Cody was leaving his job at a West Street restaurant in Boston around 11 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2015, when he passed a building where people were sleeping inside an alcove.
Footage from a security camera showed Cody pick up a book from a recycling bin and light it on fire next to the sleeping men, prosecutors said. Cody then walked away, according to the DA’s office, and watched the flames extinguish before returning and lighting the book a second time. He then pulled his hood up and left the area, prosecutors said.
The fire spread to the building’s entry, authorities said, and to the cardboard on which the men were sleeping. Passersby and a man who smelled the smoke in a nearby office put out the fire, the DA’s statement said.
“Crimes like this defy explanation,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in the statement. “The victims did nothing to provoke it and they were particularly vulnerable as they slept on the street.”
Authorities cobbled together video footage from several different sources that suggested the man who set the fire might have worked at a nearby restaurant, prosecutors said. Cody’s coworkers identified him in images from that footage.
Referring to the arson and attempted murder charges, Cody’s attorney, Andrew Stockwell-Alpert, said in a phone interview Friday his client was “drastically over-charged with crimes that could not be proven.”
But Stockwell-Alpert also called the judge’s sentence reasonable.
“Quite frankly, I think the judge actually gave a very fair, reasonable sentence under the circumstances,” he said.