Columbia teen pleads guilty to setting fires near mall

A Columbia teen pleaded guilty to setting two fires near the Mall in Columbia earlier this year in Howard County Circuit Court on Wednesday, according to state's attorney spokesman Wayne Kirwan.

Richard Nathaniel Mojica, 18, of the 10000 block of Swift Stream Place pleaded guilty to second-degree arson and first-degree malicious burning for two incidents that occurred three days apart in May, Kirwan said.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors will seek a 10-year prison sentence with a recommendation that all but 248 days be suspended, Kirwan said.

Mojica will also be required to make restitution to all victims, have no contact with the victims or their properties, not possess fire ignition equipment or flammable liquids, seek appropriate treatment, and serve five years of supervised probation, Kirwan said.

On May 3, Mojica admitted starting a fire near the loading dock at Sears Department store in the Mall. According to Kirwan, prosecutor Ned Curry said police and fire investigators determined that the fire was started by igniting bales of cardboard stored under two truck trailers parked in the loading dock.

Mojica also plead guilty to starting a May 6 fire in a dumpster near Lord and Taylor in the Mall. The Lord and Taylor fire was started by igniting combustible material in a trash dumpster and chute leading to a trash compactor, Kirwan said.

According to Kirwan, Curry told the court that a Howard County Fire and Rescue Services investigator estimated damage in the amount of $10,000 to the compactor.

Curry said, in both fires, accidental cause was ruled out by investigators.

Mojica was arrested on May 6 after police observed him flea from the Lord and Taylor dumpster area to his apartment on Swift Stream Place.

Police observations were corroborated by mall surveillance video, Kirwan said.

Later, Mojica admitted to setting the fires and investigators found a lighter on a desk at his apartment.

A sentencing date has been scheduled for Jan. 10, and Judge Richard Bernhardt has ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and a psychological evaluation, Kirwan said.

Mojica remains incarcerated at the Howard County Detention Center on $500,000 bond.

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