Wilmington man pleads guilty to arson; prosecutor applauds his ‘dramatic turnaround’

PortCityDaily.com is your source for free news and information in the Wilmington area.

Jonathan Graham
Jonathan Graham

A Wilmington man has pleaded guilty to arson in connection with a fire set to a three-story apartment building off Kerr Avenue in December 2014.

Jonathan Cogghill Graham, 22, pleaded guilty Thursday in New Hanover County Superior Court to charges of two counts of second-degree arson. The incident occurred at Oak Court Apartments, 245 South Kerr Ave., at about 9 p.m. Dec. 11, 2014. Wilmington fire crews reported a heavy fire to the exterior of a three-story building when they arrived on scene.

“A number of people were displaced as a result of the fire,” Assistant District Attorney Janet Coleman said during Graham’s plea.

Fire Marshals ruled the fire was intentionally set with total damages to the exterior of the building at about $75,000, according to the Wilmington Fire Department.

Investigators discovered four areas of origin for the fire, including a patio area and a 15-foot-wide area that extended up an apartment building wall all the way to the roof, Coleman said. Mostly pine straw and stolen Tiki torches were used to set the fire, she added.

Witnesses at the scene reported that a white male suspect had entered a car parked at the apartment complex. Officers with the Wilmington Police Department found Graham in the vehicle and suspected he was impaired, Coleman said.

“The defendant told the officers that he abused ‘molly’ and had track marks on his hands,” Coleman said.

Graham was arrested on charges of first-degree arson and larceny in connection with the blaze. He was indicted on charges of two counts of first-degree arson and misdemeanor larceny on June 8.

“This is one of those situations that could have been a whole lot worse,” Coleman said. “Mr. Graham was very lucky … it was about five or six days after the Carolina Beach fatal fire, where a number of people were not so lucky.”

Read related story: Kure Beach man indicted on first-degree murder, attempted murder, arson charges in Carolina Beach fires

Though the defendant had reportedly shown signs of impairment at the time of the incident, Coleman said Graham has since sought out treatment.

“Mr. Graham is one of the few people that I have seen over the last few years that has had a dramatic turn around,” Coleman said. “So far he has been clean and sober this whole year and sought out treatment on his own.”

Superior Court Judge W. Allen Cobb Jr. sentenced Graham to 10-21 months in prison on each arson count, which was suspended, and ordered him to serve 30 months of supervised probation. He was ordered to continue his drug treatment as part of his probation.