Suspect pleads guilty to fire that killed 13 horses

Posted at 9:30 AM, Sep 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 11:50:14-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A man accused of setting fire to a barn, killing 13 horses pleaded guilty as charged Thursday morning.

The Kent County Prosecutor says that Payton Mellema, 20, pleaded guilty to Arson, 3rd degree and Animal Cruelty.

The fire happened April 8 at the Barn for Equine Learning in Lowell.  The animals were therapy horses.  Mellema was previously named in a personal protection order filed against him by the owner of the barn, Kat Welton. In it, she wrote she feared that an attack on her and her animals was imminent.

Mellema was a neighbor to the barn at the time and have volunteered at the Center for Equine Learning, which operated out of the barn.  The Kent County Prosecutor says that Mellema has a long history of mental health and behavioral issues.  He is currently being held at the Kent County Correctional Facility.

In the plea deal, Mellema was sentenced to five years of probation, but three of those years he will be housed and treated at a residential facility that will be approved by all the parties involved.  The treatment may include electronic monitoring.  He will not be eligible for early release from his probation.

Mellema is also ordered to not have any contact with the Barn for Equine Learning  and will not be able to live at his prior address which was near the facility.

Chris Becker, the Kent County Prosecutor, says in a release that arson cases are difficult to prosecute and the evidence in the case was circumstantial.  He says that without Mellema's cooperation, there may not have been a conviction and Mellema would still be a threat to the community.

Mellema will be officially sentenced on October 31st.