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Coatesville arsonist sentenced to 60 years

A 24-year-old Coatesville man allegedly compelled by voices to set fires was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison Tuesday for setting five fires, one of which killed an 83-year-old, widowed, Nazi work camp survivor.

George Donkewicz pleaded no-contest in Chester County Court due to mental illness to one count of third-degree murder, three counts of arson that endangered people, and one count of criminal mischief in connection with fires from June 18, 2007, through Dec. 9, 2008.

A fire on Dec. 7, 2008, killed Irene Kempest, 83, a Polish native who was imprisoned in a World War II German work camp before emigrating to the United States.

The penalty was part of a plea agreement negotiated between Assistant District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco and Assistant Public Defender Sheryl J.M. Willson.

Judge Thomas G. Gavin said he found the resolution "appropriate," and he applauded both attorneys, the Kempest family, police and firefighters for their handling of the "tragedy."

After the hearing, Ost-Prisco echoed the praise. He said about 20 of the approximately 70 fires that plagued the city for 14 months remained unsolved, well above the national conviction rate of less than 17 percent.

Ost-Prisco said he was not surprised to hear Kempest's relatives, two of whom addressed the court, say that the family matriarch would have wanted them to be forgiving.

"Everything I've ever heard about this woman . . . shows how caring and loving she was," Ost-Prisco said.

Willson declined to comment.

Donkewicz was first charged with arson on Dec. 9, 2008, after police said they recognized him in a surveillance video that showed him setting a trash fire in the unit block of Strode Avenue. He later admitted responsibility for the other fires: June 18, 2007, in the 300 block of Charles Street; June 16, 2008, in the unit block of West Fifth Avenue; Aug. 22, 2008, in the 300 block of Lemon Street; and Nov. 12, 2008, in the 200 block of Madison Street.

Donkewicz is one of six defendants linked to an arson spree that made national headlines. Four have pleaded guilty and two are awaiting trial.