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Crack House Arson Trial Ends with Conviction on Lesser Charges

July 26, 1996

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A man who admitted torching what he said was a crack house that police refused to clean out was cleared of arson charges Friday and convicted of four lesser charges instead.

Sam Mohammed’s jury deliberated for about an hour before returning the verdicts at 2:20 p.m. in a courtroom packed with family, friends and well-wishers from his impoverished neighborhood.

Mohammed, a muscular 6-foot-3, 312-pound former bodyguard, had told the jury Thursday that he burned the building because he and his neighbors felt they were getting no help from police to fight street crime.

Circuit Judge Robert Colton let Mohammed remain free pending a sentencing hearing, but admonished him to ``stay out of the newspapers.″

``I won’t be burning any more houses,″ a smiling Mohammed replied, drawing laughter from spectators.

Prosecutors who charged him with arson had asked the jury to convict him of that crime, which could have meant five to nine years in prison. They argued that no citizen has the right to break the law in a private war on crime.

Instead, the six-member jury said Mohammed was guilty of two counts each of criminal mischief and trespassing. Assistant State Attorney Tom Lawson said Mohammed faces a maximum of one year in the county jail.

Mohammed, who tends to wear sleeveless, military-style combat shirts and fatigue pants, had testified that after police ignored problems caused by the crack house, he kicked down the door of the dilapidated, boarded-up building, spread lighter fluid around and set it ablaze.

While police and prosecutors called him an arsonist, his neighbors called him a hero.

One, 80-year-old Thelma White, told the jury Thursday that Mohammed was ``a Christian man. I wish we had more like him.″

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