Man convicted in Detroit firefighter's death to continue spending decades in prison


DETROIT – A man convicted of murder and arson in connection with a 2008 fire that killed a Detroit firefighter will continue to spend decades in prison.

Walter Harris was killed in November 2008 when the roof of an abandoned home collapsed while he was trying to stop the blaze.

Mario Willis was convicted of paying another man, Darian Dove, $20 to set the fire at the home. Prosecutors said the fire was part of a scheme to get insurance money.

Dove was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison in 2010. Willis was sentenced to at least 41 years in prison for second-degree murder, but an appeals court sent the case back for resentencing. The appeals court questioned Judge Michael Callahan's decision to order a sentence that was so far from the recommended guidelines of 18 to 31 years.

But Callahan on Friday gave Willis the same sentence on the murder charge with credit for already time served, which is 1,452 days. Callahan also sentenced Willis 10 to 20 years on an arson of a dwelling charge. The two sentences will be served concurrently.

The defense argued that Willis had no way of knowing a firefighter would die, but Callahan said Harris' death was "foreseeable" by Willis because Willis knew that the home had already been damaged by a previous fire and was even at a gas station watching firefighters respond to the scene. 

Harris' widow, Syri, spoke briefly before the resentencing.

"I agreed with your sentence the first time," she said. "It's hurtful and it's a slap in the face to be here again six years later."


--Syri Harris

Harris was 37 when he died. The Sterling Heights resident was a 17-year department veteran and father to six boys, one of whom is also a Detroit firefighter.
At the time of Harris' funeral fellow firefighter Lt. Steve Kirschner said, "Walter loved to laugh. It's going to be hard to go through a day here without hearing his laugh."


-- Walter Harris