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Handyman Sentenced To 20 Years For Hotel Fire

November 6, 1985

PATERSON, N.J. (AP) _ A judge today sentenced a handyman with a history of drinking problems to 20 years in prison for setting a hotel blaze last year that killed 15 people and injured 44.

Superior Court Judge William J. Marchese sentenced 45-year-old Russell W. Conklin to 20 years for one count of aggravated manslaughter and another five years, to be served concurrently, on an arson charge, an aide to the judge said.

Marchese ruled that Conklin, who was also fined $3,000, must serve at least 10 years before becoming eligible for parole.

The Passaic County prosecutor’s office dropped 15 murder counts against Conklin after his trial ended with a hung jury and he pleaded guilty Sept. 23 to the manslaughter and arson charges.

According to trial testimony, an intoxicated Conklin set bed sheets ablaze in his room at the Alexander Hamilton hotel on Oct. 18, 1984, following an argument with the hotel’s night clerk. He escaped through a bedroom window and returned to the hotel to warn others of the blaze, according to testimony.

Conklin testified during the trial of his 14-year bout with alcoholism, but said he did not clearly remember details of the fire.

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