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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

May 28, 2010 at 10:50 AM

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Man sentenced to 30 years for Greenwood arson spree

Posted by Jennifer Sullivan

Kevin Swalwell, a 47-year-old transient who set 10 fires in Greenwood and one fire in Shoreline last year, was given an exceptional sentence in King County Superior Court on Friday morning.

John Lok / Seattle Times

Kevin Swalwell

Swalwell apologized for setting the fires and blamed his actions on his mental illnesses. His lawyer said that Swalwell hears voices that tell him to set fires. Swalwell has been convicted of arson six times in the past and was under community supervision by the state Department of Corrections when the series of fires were set last summer and fall, mainly in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

Defense attorney Spencer Hamlin said it was Swalwell's decision to plead guilty and agree to a 30-year sentence. Had Swalwell not pleaded guilty to the charges, prosecutors would have sought a 36-year prison sentence at trial, Hamlin said.

Last month, Swalwell pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree arson and eight counts of second-degree arson.

Business owners spent sleepless nights standing vigil in their shops last year and the Seattle Fire Department launched nighttime patrols.

The most destructive fire was set Oct. 23 in the Eleanor Roosevelt building, where four businesses -- Green Bean Coffee House, Szechuan Bistro, C.C. Teriyaki and Pho Tic Tac -- were destroyed. The adjacent Taproot Theatre playhouse was heavily damaged by smoke and water.

All told, the fires caused $3 million in damage and severely burned a 68-year-old man.

Swalwell was arrested Nov. 13 near a burning vacant warehouse in Shoreline.

"I do apologize to all of the victims I caused pain and trouble to," Swalwell said in court Friday. "As long as I'm on my medication, I'm ok."

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