DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - A man convicted in an arson that killed a Detroit firefighter will be returning to court for his sentence -- for a third time.
The Michigan appeals court threw out Mario Willis' 41-year prison sentence Wednesday and took a Wayne County judge off the case.
Willis was accused of paying a handyman $20 to burn down his girlfriend's abandoned house in 2008. Walter Harris, a 19-year veteran of the Detroit Fire Department, and other members of Engine 23 were trapped inside the burning home when the roof collapsed. The other crewmen were rescued, but Harris' life couldn't be saved.
In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court says Judge William Callahan again erred by failing to fully explain why he chose a sentence above the guidelines, which call for a mandatory sentence of at least 15 years up to life in prison.
Judge Callahan earlier said the death of Harris was foreseeable because the house had been severely damaged by a prior fire.
Willis, now 34, was convicted of second-degree murder. The man who set the fire, Darian Dove, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 17 to 30 years in prison as part of a plea agreement that saw him testify against Willis.
Dove testified that Willis paid him to set the fire in a scheme to collect on insurance and escape a mortgage that was in arrears. Dove said Willis drove him and a container of gasoline to the house on Kirby Street that night to do a "light burn," but the fire roared out of control. Dove said he eventually called 911 around 4 a.m. to report the fire.
Willis will remain behind bars while awaiting the next court hearing.
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