CONYERS -- Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation wanted to arrange a viewing of a human burning in order for a defendant to fully understand the danger the 20-year-old put Sheriff's Office deputies in when he tried to douse them in gasoline and intentionally flicked a cigarette lighter.
Matthew Justin Pilcher, 20, of Conyers entered a guilty plea Wednesday to five counts of obstruction of a law enforcement officer and one count of family violence simple battery related to a March incident that started with an argument with Pilcher's stepmother in which he grabbed her by the arms and became aggressive. Pilcher's stepmother called law enforcement. As deputies attempted to take Pilcher into custody, Pilcher reportedly ran toward the woods line and grabbed a 5-gallon container of gasoline. Pilcher threw the fluid toward the two deputies who were pursuing him and flicked a cigarette lighter, Assistant District Attorney Debra Sullivan told the court.
An officer who responded to the scene eventually talked Pilcher down, while another officer tackled him.
"The officers had fuel on their clothes and scratches from the struggle," Sullivan said.
State prosecutors recommended a sentence of five years, with three to be served in confinement, along with intensive probation and other special conditions.
Public Defender Daniel Partain, Pilcher's attorney, explained to the court that his client was going through some stressful personal issues and suffered from depression and other mental issues at the time of the incident.
Nation asked Pilcher if he had ever witnessed a human burning and recounted a time during his military service in Vietnam when he saw a man set himself on fire.
"And it was a terrible sight and I remember it 'til this day, hearing him scream and holler and roll around on the ground and his skin come off and his hair turn black," Nation said.
Nation scolded Pilcher and called his behavior "one of the most serious, silly, craziest things you could ever do."
"You have no idea of how much pain you could have put yourself in or how much pain you could have put those officers in, OK?" Nation said.
The judge asked during the sentencing if there was a way for the defense counsel to arrange for Pilcher to watch a film of human burning. Partain later said that would not be part of Pilcher's sentence.
The judge added during court that had the deputies "shot you right between the eyes," a jury would have probably called it "justifiable homicide."
"You know, those deputies spared your life that day," Nation said. "Just be mindful of that."
Pilcher also received first offender treatment.