POSTED: 8:23 a.m. EDT June 6, 2003

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- A former Air Force firefighter was sentenced Thursday to up to 4 1/2 years in prison for setting a fire last fall that killed nearly 200 cows.

Charles Miller III, 23, pleaded guilty April 8 to arson and criminal mischief for setting fire Nov. 25 to a barn in Pleasant Valley, 65 miles south of Albany.

"You have not only destroyed this man's cattle and his buildings, you have essentially destroyed his life," Dutchess County Court Judge Gerald Hayes told Miller in imposing a sentence of 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years.

Miller apologized in court to the barn's owner, David Melville.

Prosecutors said he started the fire around midnight, then called in the alarm and helped firefighters put it out. The blaze killed 177 head of cattle and caused up to $400,000 in damages.

The judge also ordered Miller to repay Melville $300,000.

When he set the fire, Miller was on leave from the 49th Civil Engineers at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M. He was also a volunteer for a local fire company.

Prosecutors said he planned to take a civil service test to become a New York City firefighter.