2009-02-06 / Top Stories

Neilson Street Arsonist Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison

By Miriam Rosenberg

A satellite dish outside a window at 1056 Neilson Street is the only sign of previous life at the building, as the burned-out structure stands as a reminder of the tragic fire that left more than 120 people homeless on February 3, 2007. A satellite dish outside a window at 1056 Neilson Street is the only sign of previous life at the building, as the burned-out structure stands as a reminder of the tragic fire that left more than 120 people homeless on February 3, 2007. Two years ago last week the residents of 1056 Neilson Street were left homeless after they had to flee into a night in which the temperature hovered around 30 degrees and the winds blew at more than 20 mph, as a six-alarm fire set by a squatter destroyed their homes.

On February 3, 2007, Marcello McDonald used rags and gasoline to accelerate the burning of his girlfriend's clothes in an effort to get her out of the Neilson Street apartment the two shared as squatters, police say.

Upon the second anniversary of the blaze, The Wave learned on Tuesday that McDonald began serving a 12- year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty on March 14 of last year to arson in the second degree.

During the first week of February 2008, a representative for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown told this newspaper that McDonald was undergoing a psychological examination to determine if he was fit for trial.

Shortly after the blaze, fire marshals established the cause as arson. They began looking for McDonald, who was squatting in apartment 5H with his girlfriend, Sandra Brown, at the time of the fire.

He was originally charged with two counts of burglary - in the first degree and second degree; arson in the second degree; criminal mischief in the second degree; criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree and assault in the second degree.

"He was angry with her for doing her thing - drugs and prostitution - in the apartment," a Fire Department source told The Wave. "Whenever he got her angry, she would find another man to have sex with and let him know about it."

Sources told this newspaper last March that McDonald's only intention was to get his girlfriend out of the apartment. "He didn't mean to burn everybody out or destroy the building."

More than 50 FDNY units, 250 firefighters, EMS workers and numerous Red Cross personnel responded to the blaze. The tragedy left more than 120 people, including 46 children, without a place to live. Twenty firefighters were among the approximately 30 people who suffered minor injuries on the night of the blaze.

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