Arsonist responsible in Detroit firefighter's 2008 death to be resentenced

Mario Willis appeals for lighter sentence after conviction for arson that killed firefighter Walter Harris


DETROIT – Just $20 was all it took to end a career firefighter's life.

That's how much convicted arsonist Mario Willis paid to burn down a house owned by his girlfriend in 2008. When Detroit firefighters got to the house and went inside, Walter Harris was right in the middle of battling the blaze.

"You had to try to catch up to Walter, because he was always in there right in the midst of it all, and he wouldn't have it any other way," said Battalion Chief Steven Kirschner, Detroit Fire Department.

The roof collapsed, crushing Harris to death. The father of six was well-loved in the department and his death was, and still is, a stunner.

"Walt physically isn't here with us anymore, but there isn't a day that goes by that he is not talked about or thought about, you know ... songs on the radio, just stuff, everyday life. He was a part of everyday life for a lot of people, and it's a shame," said Sgt. Craig Binder, Detroit Fire Department.

On Friday, the man who caused it all may be getting a lighter sentence. Willis was sentenced to a hefty 40 to 60 years in prison. He appealed, saying his sentence is too stiff. The Michigan Court of Appeals questioned why it is so high and above the guidelines and has sent it back to the trial judge for resentencing.

How, his fellow firefighters wonder, can you lighten the load for someone responsible for the death of a man like Harris?

"You never think a man like that would be the one that would die. And they took one of our strongest, one of our best," said Kirschner.

Related: Setting fires in Detroit costs everyone in Michigan


-- Walter Harris


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