GRAND HAVEN — Michael McNeer, a 35-year-old Ottawa County man, pleaded no contest on Friday to arson charges stemming from two fires in Holland last fall.
The fires on Nov. 16 caused major damage to the 18th Street home of an acquaintance of McNeer, who had recently been involved with McNeer’s girlfriend, and minor damage to a 16th Street business several blocks away.
As part of McNeer’s plea deal, the second-degree arson charge from the 18th Street house fire was dropped to a lesser, third-degree arson charge. McNeer also pleaded no contest to a second third-degree arson charge related to the 16th Street fire.
Ottawa County Circuit Court Judge Jon Hulsing told McNeer on May 8 he could expect to be sentenced to 6-20 years for both charges, with the sentences running concurrently.
McNeer will also be sentenced as a third time habitual offender, following two 2004 convictions in Oregon for second-degree burglary and a controlled substance violation.
McNeer’s defense attorney, Abraham Gonzalez, told the judge McNeer was entering no contest pleas “due to civil liability.” A no contest plea is treated no differently than a guilty plea during sentencing, and the conviction looks the same on a person’s criminal record, but guilty pleas can be used against the defendant in civil lawsuits.
The fires were set the morning of Nov. 16. Firefighters were called to the 16th Street fire around 3:30 a.m. and quickly extinguished it. Security footage from nearby businesses captured a man walking out of the alley next to the business and the flames appearing shortly after.
Later that morning, a witness testified he ran into McNeer near the Shell gas station on 16th Street and River Avenue. The witness said McNeer bragged about the 16th Street fire and asked if it would be possible to set another fire using diesel fuel.
Then, around 7:30 a.m., firefighters were called to a second house fire, which began on the screened-in front porch. A fire investigator ruled both fires were set intentionally.
A man who had recently been involved with McNeer’s girlfriend often slept on that porch and kept his belongings there.
McNeer was arrested days after the house fires at the Holland train and bus station.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 5.
— Contact reporter Carolyn Muyskens at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @cjmuyskens.