Mentally Ill Fort Worth Man Gets 20 Years for Trying to Burn Down Childhood Home

There are good ways to handle a family dispute, and then there are bad ways, the ones that will inspire the prosecutor handling your case to send out a press release with the too-late reminder that "We are all told not to play with fire as small children."

Jeffrey Pruett, 62, chose the bad way. On December 19, 2012, in the midst of a dispute with his brother over their late mother's estate, Pruett tried to burn down his childhood home in southwest Fort Worth.

The house was unoccupied at the time. His brother, who'd moved in a decade or so before to take care of their ailing parents and stayed put after their mother's death, had just gone to lunch when Pruett arrived and began dousing the side of the house with a flammable liquid.

At trial, prosecutors described Pruett as "obsessed" with the division of his mother's estate and enraged that his brother was living in the house without paying rent. His anger, though intense, failed to do much to fuel the fire. A neighbor armed with a garden hose was able to subdue the blaze until firefighters arrived, limiting the damage to a small portion of the exterior wall and some scorched grass and bushes.

Pruett was homeless at the time, and it took police several weeks to track him down. He also has what prosecutors describe as a "history of mental illness." According to a press release from the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, that was an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor in the trial's outcome, as family and friends testified that they were afraid of Pruett and what he might do if released on probation. A jury sentenced him to 20 years. He'll be eligible for parole after 10.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.