EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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March 21, 2013

Woman sentenced in Derry arson case

Tenant pleads guilty to setting three fires at condo complex

BRENTWOOD — Cheryl Wheaton didn't like some of the people in her condominium complex and thought they should be evicted.

So when she suspected there was drug dealing and other troublesome activity going on at Hillside Estates in Derry, the 57-year-old grandmother took matters into her own hands.

She set three fires at the 24-unit complex over a three-month period to make it look like the other tenants did it so they would be evicted.

Her scheme didn't work, but it did lead to at least $10,000 in damage and caused residents of the complex to fear for their lives, according to Assistant County Attorney Bradley Bolton.

Wheaton pleaded guilty to three arson charges yesterday in Rockingham Superior Court and was sentenced to two to four years in state prison by Judge N. William Delker.

Wheaton, free on $10,000 cash bail, later moved to Salem after she was charged with setting the three fires in 2011 at the complex at 4 Pembroke Drive. She was not charged in connection with what police said were two other suspicious fires at the complex.

The mother of four and grandmother of seven stood quietly before Delker as she pleaded guilty to the felony charges, each punishable by seven and a half to 15 years in prison if convicted at trial.

Wheaton initially told police two years ago that she wasn't responsible for the fires but later said she set them while sleepwalking.

She allegedly took a double dose of sleeping pills when the first fire was set in an empty unit about 11 p.m. on July, 21, 2011, Bolton said.

The next fire was Aug. 12 and the third Oct. 30 — during an infamous snowstorm that knocked out power, meaning smoke alarms were inoperable, he said.

Bolton said Wheaton deserved to spend at least three to six years in prison because of the crimes' severity.

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