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Boy accused of helping set Clearwater mom on fire pleads guilty

Jack Ault, 15, enters Judge Jack Day’s courtroom Friday, where he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, arson and grand theft.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Jack Ault, 15, enters Judge Jack Day’s courtroom Friday, where he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, arson and grand theft.

LARGO — Jack Ault, the 15-year-old boy accused of helping an 11-year-old Clearwater girl set fire to her mother, pleaded guilty to five charges in juvenile court Friday morning.

His mother, Shannon Mastrangelo, said she was told he likely will be sentenced to a juvenile program that would last up to two years.

The case stems from a Dec. 29 fire in which Nancy Broadhead, 48, woke up to flames in her home. Her first instinct was to call out for her daughter.

But Clearwater police said her daughter and Ault had poured gasoline around Broadhead's bed and set it on fire. Ault has been described as the girl's boyfriend.

Broadhead appeared in court Friday with both hands in bandages. She has ongoing medical issues, her attorney said, and needs surgery involving a skin graft.

In an interview later with the St. Petersburg Times, Broadhead said she did not know the full extent of Ault's involvement in the fire. However, she told prosecutors she would rather see him tried as a juvenile.

"It's a little kid's life you're talking about. It doesn't have to be destroyed," she said. "Whenever Jack is sentenced, whatever he gets, I hope he runs with it and comes out okay and makes something of his life."

At Friday's hearing, Ault pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from a previous fight with his sister, and three charges stemming from the fire: attempted murder, arson and grand theft auto. The teenager was not asked to speak, other than to answer questions from Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Jack Day about whether he understood his rights.

Ault's sentencing has been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 25, assuming Broadhead, who wants to attend, is not in surgery at the time.

Mastrangelo, Ault's mother, said she was told that her son likely will be placed in a maximum-level juvenile program for roughly two years. However, in such programs, a youth can stay confined for more or less time, depending on his behavior and how well he progress in educational and other programs.

Assistant Public Defender Dwight Wolfe said Ault is "100 percent committed to being successful at it. His mother is a great support. She encourages him and she'll be there for him."

Mastrangelo said she still believes in her son, and does not believe he was present to pour gasoline on or around Broadhead's bed — although she did not deny that he had some involvement in what happened.

"I'm grateful for what he got," she said, adding that she was told that he could face 15 years to life if charged as an adult.

In fact, she maintained that her son had been trying to talk Broadhead's daughter out of the plan.

The night before the fire, she said she heard him saying over the phone, "Don't do that, you won't do that, you can't do that."

At the time, Mastrangelo asked her son who he was speaking to, but he didn't say what the conversation was about. Mastrangelo also said neither she nor her son realized the girl was just 11 because she looks older.

The girl, who the Times is not naming because of her age, also faces juvenile charges of attempted murder and arson.

Ault and the girl met at a church youth group, Mastrangelo said.

Mastrangelo has visited her son at the Juvenile Detention Center, she said, and he has expressed more worries about her than about himself.

In a recent letter, he wrote, "I'm sorry for missing your birthday," and promised to make her a cake when he is freed.

In a previous court hearing this week, Assistant State Attorney Joseph Walker portrayed the girl as the instigator of the plot against Broadhead. He said she admitted to police that she poured the gasoline, and that "she was the one who developed this plan. She got help. She followed through with the plan."

Times staff writer Dominick Tao contributed to this report.

Boy accused of helping set Clearwater mom on fire pleads guilty 01/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 10:35pm]
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