Man sentenced for barn fire that killed 13 horses

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The man who set a barn on fire, killing 13 horses, was sentenced to jail time and a mental institution Tuesday.

Payton Mellema, 20, was sentenced to five years probation including one year in jail, and given credit for time served, which is about nine months. Following jail time, Kent County Circuit Judge Donald Johnston Mellema is required to live at a mental health treatment facility for a minimum of three years; however, if an institution is not agreed upon, Mellema will serve three to 10 years in prison. The court is also determining a restitution amount.

"Shame on you," said Kat Welton, licensed social worker and owner of the Barn for Equine Learning in Lowell.

"And shame on your father Fred. I believe without a doubt that this fire could have been prevented."

Welton and her mother spoke at Mellema's sentencing Tuesday, each reliving the arson Mellema sparked April 8 at their barn, and chained the doors shut from the inside, ultimately killing their 13 therapy horses.

“You took so many important lives walking down my aisle: Monte, Romeo, Simon, Bo, Raz, Fiona, Ace, Tinkerbell, Roxy, Grandmother, Gopher, Hero and Elwood," said Welton through tears.

"You tortured and killed each one. Let that image stay with you: of 13 innocent horses, jailed in their stalls, falling to their knees and dying in a fire that you started."

Welton's mother also addressed the court and called Mellema's behavior, as their neighbor, "escalating," including his confession to committing beastiality to one of their mares while two people watched.

In September, Mellema took a plea deal when he pleaded guilty to third-degree arson, and animal killing and torture.

Mellema was a neighbor of the barn and had volunteered at the Center for Equine Learning, which operated out of the barn. The owner of the barn had previously filed a personal protection order against Mellema and he had a long history of mental health and behavioral issues.

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