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Man gets 40 years for setting friends afire

By Fran Jeffries - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A 54-year-old Cobb County man was sentenced to 40 years in prison Friday for throwing gasoline on his best friend and ex-girlfriend and setting them on fire at a homeless camp.

Melvin George Hood had been convicted of aggravated battery and aggravated assault late Thursday. A Cobb County jury took just 20 minutes to convict him, according to Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds.

Hood was among a group of homeless people who lived in a camp off Noonday Church Road when, about 5:30 a.m. on August 21, 2013 he got mad at his best friend, Raymond Mathews, and his former girlfriend, Wanda Kight. He poured gasoline on Mathews and onto Kight’s tent and set both on fire, Reynolds said.

The victims testified about the fire, Reynolds said. Kight was trapped inside the tent and had to be rescued by another camper. Mathews spent nearly two months afterward in a medically induced coma.

“The defendant almost killed these two people, for no reason. Because he was drunk and he was mad. It is inexcusable,” Assistant District Attorney Molly Gillis told jurors.

She acknowledged that the residents of the camp “live a different lifestyle than many people.”

“But,” Gillis said, “You cannot commit aggravated battery and aggravated assault, and expect to get away with it because you live a different lifestyle.”

Hood contended he was working on a generator at the time and it blew up, causing the fire. The generator – undamaged — was found nearly 50 yards from the fire, according to a statement from Reynolds. The area where the tent had been was obliterated. Eyewitnesses also testified that the fire occurred when Hood went near the tent after retrieving a can of gasoline.

On Friday, Cobb Superior Court Judge C. LaTain Kell sentenced Hood to 40 years, with 30 years to be served in custody. He was sentenced as a recidivist, meaning he is not eligible for parole, according to Reynolds.

Judge Kell first thanked the victims, Mathews and Kight, for their courage and dignity.

“It sounds like, despite your circumstances, you had made a decent life for yourselves, and I admire you for that,” Judge Kell said. “Life was hard for you already, and it’s harder now … You did not deserve this.”

Hood has been held without bond since his arrest at the crime scene.

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