A 49-year-old ex-felon convicted of setting fires in more than a dozen locations near downtown San Jose in January, causing about $6 million in damage, agreed in Santa Clara County Superior Court Monday to serve 40 years to life in prison.
Patrick Brennan, dressed in brown jail clothes beside his public defender in a courtroom jury box, pleaded guilty in response to questioning by Judge Kenneth Shapero to the 10 counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson and special allegations filed against him.
Shapero asked that the county's Probation Department report back on the case in time for a hearing set for Feb. 13, when Judge Shelyan Brown is to formally impose the sentence on Brennan.
Brennan, a San Jose native, had two prior felony convictions for arson and a third felony conviction for assault with intent to commit rape and faced up to 455 years in prison. Deputy District Attorney Bud Porter said Brennan's lengthy sentence was reached during talks with the defendant and his public defender Malorie Street.
Under the plea bargain, Brennan must serve at least 85 percent, or nearly 13 years, of a 15-year sentence in the arson case and then serve a minimum of 25 additional years before he could file for parole from the life sentence, Porter said.
"It was a negotiated settlement and we agreed to it because essentially it is a life sentence without parole," Porter said after Monday morning's hearing.
"The odds are he will never get out," Porter said.
Brennan was arrested Jan. 17 and led San Jose police to where he admitted to setting 13 fires between Jan. 8 and Jan. 12 in an area between Santa Clara and William streets and 17th and 33rd streets. His fires damaged or destroyed homes and other structures, including six that were occupied and a 125,000-square-foot warehouse on North 28th and Julian streets that caused a five-alarm blaze and $5 million in damage, according to police.
On Jan. 9 alone, he ignited five fires, including one that resulted in a three-alarm blaze reported at 2:09 a.m. at a home at 123 E. 17th St., from which an elderly couple barely escaped unharmed and resulted in $500,000 in damage, according to police. At the elderly couple's home, Brennan said he used his lighter to light a paper bag on a chair on the front porch of the home and watched the chair catch fire, police said.
Brennan, who has a history of lighting arson fires, may have had an impulse control problem involving pyromania that drove him to it, but that is not a legal defense for his crimes, Porter said.
"He knew what he was doing and knew what he was doing was wrong," the prosecutor said.
The Rev. Greg Nolan of the Greater St. John Baptist Church at 1230 E. San Antonio Road, where Brennan set the first of the 13 fires on Jan. 8, completely destroying a rear building the church used for classrooms, said he was satisfied with the sentencing agreement.
"We've been hurt because that building meant a lot to us," Nolan said. "It had sentimental value for us." Nolan said Brennan "needs help, serious help."
Street said that Brennan had fully cooperated with law enforcement throughout the legal process, pleaded guilty to all counts charged and recognizes that he will be sentenced to life in prison.
"He's always felt remorse and regret," Street said.
Before the January fires, Brennan had been placed both on a registry of people convicted of arson who must report to police and on California's Megan's Law list of sexual offenders, according to prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to two counts of arson for setting wildfires in Gilroy in 1999 and was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison and a term of probation, according to Porter.
Brennan later served eight and a half years in prison for his conviction for assault with intent to commit rape, which was a third strike, before he was paroled in 2012, Porter said.