By Taylor Smith and Ivan Villegas
WOODLAND, CA – James Pulford received his final prison sentence Friday morning here in Yolo County Superior Court for his arson conviction from last year, which included starting a fire in an occupied motel and tampering with the smoke detectors, endangering motel tenants.
Judge Peter Williams ultimately ruled Pulford’s sentence to be 16 years in state prison with 299 days of credit.
This sentence was not easily agreed upon, however. Initially, the accused was supposed to receive 30 years in prison, which was determined to be essentially the same as a life sentence because he is almost 70 years old.
Judge Williams proposed that Pulford’s age and health will mitigate his threat to society once he gets out of prison—if he gets out of prison.
Before making his final statement, however, the judge first wanted to hear from both sides. He started with Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke, who advocated for Pulford to receive probation, informing the court that Pulford would be willing to partake in psychiatric and substance use counseling.
Given Pulford’s advanced age, Gocke also asked that the court reflect on the impact that Pulford’s life decisions have had on the state of his overall well-being, as he allegedly contracted COVID-19 while in custody and nearly died.
Judge Williams ultimately disagreed with Gocke’s recommendation that Pulford receive probation, arguing, “This is not a probation case by any stretch of the imagination.”
Understanding that probation was a long shot, Gocke recommended a five-year sentence that would be doubled to 10 years. He maintained that sentence was reasonable given Pulford’s age, and that nobody was killed or hospitalized, and the prior strike that resulted in the doubling of the sentence happened more than 15 years ago.
Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo asserted Pulford be held accountable for his relentless actions regardless of his past, present, or future.
She proposed the upper term for his crimes be imposed on the basis of “the vulnerability of the victims, the callousness of the crimes, and Mr. Pulford’s horrendous record that goes back to literally the Kennedy administration.”
Palumbo reminded the court of Pulford’s past, citing, “His record is really, really, really bad, and he was just off parole for two years when this happened.”
She added that if the judge does not impose the upper sentence the accused will likely commit another crime as soon as he has the chance.
She insisted Pulford would still be a threat to public safety even after his prison term is complete, stating, “He was 66 years old when he lit the motel on fire, so the fact that he would be an elderly man when he would be released…I think he would still be a danger.”
Judge Williams disagreed with her statement that he would continue to be a danger, but agreed that he should receive the upper term sentence for his crimes.
Ultimately, Pulford received an eight-year sentence that was doubled for prior strikes and aggravated circumstances of disabling the fire detection devices, which the judge determined shows harmful intent toward the other people in the motel.