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Man charged in CVS arson faces 4 years in prison under plea deal

A 24-year-old man accused of setting a CVS store in West Baltimore ablaze — one of the indelible images of the city's April unrest — could receive a sentence of four years in prison after he pleaded guilty Wednesday to committing arson during the act of rioting.

The charge to which Raymon Carter pleaded could cut a year from his prison sentence. Carter was initially charged with arson, which carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence. The rioting charge allows a lesser punishment because Carter agreed to plead guilty.

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The deal requires Carter to pay for some of the $1.1 million in damage to the pharmacy. Prosecutors said that agreeing on an amount will be tricky because looters also contributed to the losses and Carter does not hold significant assets.

"The most important aspects of this case are that Raymon Carter will be punished for participating in the riot and that ordinary citizens concerned about their neighborhood helped to catch him," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "Anyone who considers participating in a riot should know that police, prosecutors and citizens will track them down and send them to prison."

Carter's only statements to U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander at a hearing in Baltimore federal court were "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" as he waived his right to a jury trial and confirmed that he understood the plea agreement.

His attorney, public defender Premal Dharia, said Carter "is incredibly remorseful" for his actions. She noted that the prison sentence Carter is expected to receive is his first.

"He intends to spend this period of incarceration reflecting on his actions, and on ways to return to this community as an upstanding member," Dharia said in an email. "This was an uncharacteristic error in judgment on a day in which many in the city became carried away by their frustration and caused damage to the very communities in which they live."

Several of Carter's family members, including his 3-month-old daughter, were present at the hearing. They declined to be interviewed.

Prosecutors said Carter called family members to talk about joining in the rioting and looting that broke out April 27 after the funeral of Freddie Gray. Gray, 25, died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.

Prosecutors said surveillance cameras captured Carter arriving at the corner of North and Pennsylvania avenues, watching the rioting and entering the CVS, which looters had breached an hour earlier.

They said store surveillance videos showed him first attempting to break into a safe inside the store. Then, they said, the footage showed him repeatedly returning to a corner of the store that held paper towels and toilet paper until a flash of light, believed to be the ignition of the fire, caused looters to flee.

At least five tips helped authorities identify Carter after surveillance images were released to the public. A July 1 tip told police Carter was outside a liquor store in Sharp-Leadenhall, and he was arrested nearby after a foot chase.

Carter is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17. If a judge rejects the plea deal, Carter may rescind his guilty plea.

The deal reserves Carter's right to appeal the amount of restitution he is required to pay.

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