Julia Harper sentenced to 9 years for arson fire that injured Captain Pete Dern

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She set the fire causing lifelong injuries to a Fresno fire captain and now, as the punishment comes in, she's apologizing. (KFSN)

She set the fire causing lifelong injuries to a Fresno fire captain and now, as the punishment comes in, she's apologizing for consequences she never intended.

"She is not the monster that a number of members of the public, to my view, have made her out to be," said defense attorney Mark Siegel, who represents Julia Harper.

Capt. Pete Dern's fall into a burning home made national headlines -- and his recovery has been cheered around the world.

Julia Harper admits to setting the fire. She says her roommates provoked her. And she says she's very sorry about the extreme trouble her crime caused.

Dern put on a brave face as he walked out of the hospital last July, less than four months after falling through the roof of a burning house in central Fresno. His strength and resolve were obvious. His ongoing struggle was too.

Ten months later, a judge revealed details of Dern's injuries as he weighed how to punish the arsonist responsible for them.

"He had fourth degree burns on both hands which penetrated to the bone," said Judge Don Penner. "He lost a finger on his right hand and both of his ears were burned off as a result of the fire."

Judge Penner says Dern still has night terrors, and even after 55 surgeries, he's not sure he'll ever regain the use of his hands or the ability to work as a firefighter.

Julia Harper wanted someone to suffer that day in March. Her roommates had kicked her out, even after she'd paid her rent, and arson was her response. But she never expected this.

"She was remorseful that she wished it hadn't happened and that if she could, she would take his place," Siegel said.

The defense attorney says Harper has lived a rough life with some mental instability. He hopes this case doesn't define her life and when her nine-year sentence is done, she can move on -- without the scrutiny she's received.

"The most she was facing was 14 years in prison because she was not going to be burned at the stake, although I think a lot of people would've liked that," Siegel said.

Harper had agreed to a previous plea deal calling for a seven-year prison sentence, but prosecutors said the Dern family was not satisfied with that punishment.

Wednesday, the prosecutor told Action News the Dern family was satisfied with the nine-year deal.
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