DENVER (AP) — A Colorado teenager who was one of three friends who authorities say ignited a house fire that killed five Senegalese immigrants was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years behind bars in court where a man who lost his wife and baby daughter called the boy a “monster.”
Amadou Beye said he thinks about killing himself every day and needs medication to sleep. His wife, Hassan Diol, had immigrated to the United States before him and he hadn't yet met their infant daughter, Hawa.
“My life doesn’t make sense anymore,” Beye told Judge Martin Egelhoff during a sentencing hearing for Dillon Siebert, who was 14 at the time of the Aug. 5, 2020 fire and is now 17. At the hearing, Beye wore a sweatshirt with a photo of his wife and baby together, with the words “Why my wife? Why my daughter?”
The investigation of the fire dragged on for months without any leads amid fears that the fire had been a hate crime, prompting many Senegalese immigrants to install security cameras at their homes in case they could also be targeted. But authorities ended up alleging a separate, disturbing motive — three teens had set fire to the house out of revenge for a stolen iPhone, which one of them mistakenly traced to the home in a neighborhood near Denver’s airport.
Siebert, originally charged as a juvenile, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in adult court in December under a deal that prosecutors and the defense said balanced his lesser role in planning the fire, his remorse and interest in rehabilitation with the horror of the crime.
In juvenile court on Wednesday, Siebert was sentenced to serve three years in juvenile detention under the terms of the deal. In a separate hearing in adult court, where Beye, and other relatives and members of the Senegalese community spoke against the agreement, Siebert was sentenced to serve seven years in a state prison program for young inmates. If he violates the terms of that sentence, he would then be required to serve 26 years in prison, prosecutors said.
The cases against the other two teens, including the alleged ringleader, Kevin Bui, and Gavin Seymour, who were 16 at the time of the fire, are still pending in adult court where they are charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, arson and burglary.
Also killed in the fire were Hassan Diol's brother, Djibril, his wife, Adja Diol and their 22-month-old daughter Khadija. Their bodies were found on the first floor of the home near the front door. Their deaths prompted expressions of sympathy from Senegal’s president, Macky Sall.
Others speaking at the sentencing hearing talked about the huge hole left by the loss of Djibril Diol, an engineer who was working on a large rebuilding of Interstate 70 in the city, and dreamed about returning to Senegal to build roads there. He helped fellow immigrants and was a devout Muslim, waking early for morning prayers, they said.
Djibril Diol's brother, Abou Diol, said he lost the person he trusted to give him good advice and said their father has “lost his mind” since the fire.
Friend and community leader Ousman Ba said 10 years was not justice for such a crime and wondered what would have happened if five members of a white family were killed in such a way.
“But Black lives don't matter,” he said.
Siebert looked toward family members and friends as they addressed Egelhoff but did not seem to display any emotion. When given a chance to make a statement, he did express remorse.
“I am here to apologize for what I have done to you and your family,” said Siebert, who also spoke of how upset he had been when losing a single, valued family member, his grandmother, shortly before the fire after not being able to see her because of pandemic restrictions.
His defense attorney, Johnna Stuart, described Siebert as an “extreme follower” who was bullied over a speech delay, and fell in with Bui and Seymour amid the isolation of the pandemic.
Bui — who was identified as a suspect with the others after police got a search warrant asking Google for which accounts had searched the home's address within 15 days of the fire — allegedly told investigators he had been robbed the month before the fire while trying to buy a gun, and traced his iPhone to the home using an app. He admitted to setting the fire, only to find out the next day through news coverage that the victims were not the people who robbed him, according to police.
Lawyers for Bui and Seymour are challenging police's use of the Google keyword search results, calling it a “digital dragnet” that swept up searches of billions of people around the world.
Egelhoff denied an attempt last year to have the Google search evidence thrown out, but defense lawyers have now asked the Colorado Supreme Court to consider the issue. It is scheduled to hear arguments on it in May.