A mentally ill homeless man was sentenced Thursday to 10 1/2 years in prison for setting fire to another homeless man's tent last fall.

John Allen Wilder, 41, was charged with attempted first- and second-degree murder, assault, arson and other counts. He entered an Alford plea to first-degree arson, which does not admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to gain a conviction. The other charges were dropped under the plea deal.

Wilder, who had been drinking, was upset at him when he settled in for the night Nov. 22, 2008, in a homeless camp behind BJ's Warehouse in Pasadena, John Kreimer said.

"All of a sudden, there was flames," said Kreimer, who called 911 from his cell phone and was dragged from his tent by an Anne Arundel police officer. Kreimer, who uses a cane, suffered minor burns. His cat, Pumpkin, escaped safely.

According to police, Wilder, who was arrested as he watched the blaze, said he should have killed Kreimer, and that "when I get out, I'll kill him."

In court, Wilder apologized to Kreimer and said he wanted mental health care to "get off this merry-go-round."

Wilder has 23 prior criminal convictions, most of them minor, said Assistant State's Attorney Brian Marsh. In past incidents, Wilder had threatened relatives with a skillet and broken into a lover's apartment, according to court records.

Wilder also has a nearly three-decade history of mental disorders and alcoholism, said Assistant Public Defender Heather Tierney. She said her client is unemployed, with nobody to help him, and that he has no way to get the medications that have been regulating his mental illness while he is in jail.

"It is a shame that our society is not necessarily set up to assist people who are suffering from mental illness," said Judge J. Michael Wachs, also expressing concerns about public safety. Dousing the tent with lighter fluid and setting it ablaze "could have ended up a homicide," he said.

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