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Man Gets Up To 20 Years for Arson of Historic ‘Matewan Massacre’ Town

June 26, 1993

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) _ The man who set a Christmas Day fire that destroyed a quarter of the historic mining town of Matewan was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Jerry Lee Barker, 39, of Phelps, Ky., had pleaded guilty in Mingo County Circuit Court to one count of first-degree arson.

Barker set fire to an 81-year-old, blocklong building in Matewan that contained a church, two shops, an office and 13 apartments, Prosecutor Glen Rutledge said.

Seven people suffered minor injuries and eight families were left homeless. Damage in the town on the Kentucky line was estimated at $1.5 million.

Mingo County Circuit Judge Elliott Maynard on Friday sentenced Barker to two to 20 years and said he will recommend to the state Board of Probation and Parole that Barker serve at least 10 years. He called Barker a menace to society.

The section destroyed had been the scene of the ″Matewan Massacre,″ a 1920 shootout between union miners and coal company detectives that left 10 people dead.

Before the town of 650 was founded in 1897, it was the scene of the legendary feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Prosecutors said Barker set the fire to get even with the owner of a bar next door with whom he had argued Christmas Eve.

Barker also had been charged with setting four small fires Dec. 26. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors agreed not to pursue those charges.

Defense attorney A.J. Ryan said Barker could be out of prison within 1 years after being credited with time served.

Last year, the state gave Matewan $539,000 to restore the downtown to its turn-of-the-century appearance.

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