Man charged in arson fire that killed 13 horses near Lowell

Horse barn fire charges

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A man under investigation for an arson fire that killed 13 horses has been formally charged with setting the April 8th blaze in Lowell Township.

The Kent County Prosecutor's Office issued a warrant charging 20-year-old Payton Mellema with third-degree arson and killing/torturing animals. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

Mellema appeared for a video arraignment Friday, Sept. 1 in Kent County’s 63rd District Court. Judge Jeffrey O’Hara set bond at $100,000. Mellema was already being held on a combined bond of $250,000 for violating probation and removing an electronic ankle tether.

Mellema on Thursday “gave a confession that was consistent with known evidence and told investigators his actions caused the burning of the barn along with killing the animals inside,’’ Kent County Sheriff’s Department Detective Aron Bowser wrote in a probable cause affidavit.

“Payton stated he gained access to the barn and chained the doors closed,’’ Bowser wrote. “He then used an accelerant and started a small fire in the hayloft that got out of control. Payton stated that he fled the barn and discarded evidence that was previously retrieved by investigators.’’

Defense attorney Jeffery S. Crampton said his client has cooperated with authorities.

“Obviously, we knew the charges were coming down,’’ Crampton said outside of court. “We've been in touch with them and have been cooperative all along. We're hoping for a relatively quick resolution for a very troubled young man that focuses on getting him some help.''

Kathryn A. Welton, owner of The Barn for Equine Learning, obtained a personal protection order against Mellema less than a week after the horse barn fire. Mellema lives next door to the facility. 

Mellema is currently awaiting trial in Kent County Circuit Court for cutting off an electronic tether he was ordered to wear within days of the early April fire.

Mellema was a suspect in the fire on Timpson Avenue SE when Kent County Circuit Court Judge Donald A. Johnston ordered that he be outfitted with the tether as an amendment to his probation.  The judge in November placed Mellema on probation for 2½ years for breaking into a neighbor's home and taking a .22-caliber firearm.

Mellema wore the tether for 18 days before cutting it off on April 30. He was locked up in the Kent County Jail the next day for tampering with an electronic monitoring device, a two-year felony.

►Related: Suspect in Lowell horse barn fire called a public safety risk, jailed for probation violation
►Related: 13 therapy horses killed in barn fire, criminal investigation underway

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