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Man gets 10 years for fire, sex

He's 19 but looks no more than 16, with a fresh face, meager stature and gel-spiked short brown hair. He wears clipon ties and a suit coat a size too big.

By the time Jason Aron Hall gets out of prison, he won't look so young.

Circuit Judge Ric Howard sentenced the Beverly Hills man to 10 years in state prison Tuesday after finding him guilty of having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend and setting a fire that damaged a wooden pavilion owned by the Beverly Hills Recreation Association.

Hall wept. His parents cried foul. The public defender looked bewildered. But the judge said the punishment was deserved.

"The fact is that when he's caught, he stands up and says (sorry) ... and then as soon as he walks out that door, he gives me the high hard one," Howard said as he made his decision. "No! He goes to prison today."

Hall entered an open plea to the charges, in effect putting himself at the mercy of Howard, who has been criticized in the past for giving harsh sentences to young men.

Howard sentenced Hall to 10 years in prison for each of the second-degree felonies. The sentences will run concurrently. It was the maximum punishment allowed under state law.

Hall's trouble with the law began about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 25, when he and his girlfriend smoked marijuana, according to court testimony. They then lit a fire in a bathroom on the recreation association grounds and, when it fizzled, took paper towels outside to a pavilion and set the towels ablaze. They did so because they were bored, Citrus sheriff's Detective David Gator told the judge.

In March, Hall, a ninth-grade dropout, and his girlfriend were arrested and ordered not to talk to each other.

But weeks later, detectives confronted Hall after he violated his pretrial release by staying at her house. After first lying, he confessed and told authorities during interrogation that they had consensual sex numerous times.

"He knew how old she was. He knew it was wrong," Detective Chris Prus said. "I do think he's 19 and stuck in the ninth grade."

When it was his turn to speak Tuesday, Hall apologized for the crime and for being late to the hearing, which made Howard aggravated from the start.

"So help me God, I didn't have no intentions of doing it," Hall said of the fire. "I just ... I just - there wasn't no purpose at all."

His parents, David and Janette Hall, stood at his side. His mother said her son is immature and irresponsible, saying he ran with the wrong crowd. She agreed that he should pay restitution, but they didn't expect prison time.

"He'd never been in trouble a day of his life before he got in with her," she said.

Howard didn't budge.

"Trying to blame your travails on (your girlfriend) in all her 15 years of age," he said, "that's really pathetic."

The judge said Hall's history of not obeying court orders and his attitude led to the tough punishment.

He ordered Hall to pay $24,389.01 in restitution to the association for the damage to the pavilion but acknowledged that it's a debt that might never get satisfied.

Mike Colbert, a vice president of the association, told Howard that the fire caused the group's insurance to spike, which led to four part-time employees being laid off.

"We have nothing personal against Mr. Hall," he told the court. "We've yet to figure out what he has against us."

John Frank can be reached at 860-7312 or jfrank@sptimes.com.

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