LOWELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The 20-year-old named by prosecutors as a suspect in an arson of a barn that killed 13 therapy horses has a troubled history that includes crime, drug use and setting fires.
Payton Mellema is in the Kent County jail on a $250,000 bond, an unusually high amount for cutting off a GPS tether.
But a judge noted his past record that includes multiple placements in mental health facilities and alleged threats that led to his neighbors taking out a restraining order.
Hours after a horrific fire killed their 13 horses last month, the owners of The Barn for Equine Learning in Lowell Township told 24 Hour News 8 they were pretty sure who set the barn ablaze.
Owner Kathryn Welton said the barn doors had been locked from the inside which prevented them from opening the doors when they saw the fire and listened to the cries of their beloved horses.
“This wasn’t an accident,” Welton said in the hours after the fire. “Even if this is an electrical fire accident, it couldn’t have chained our barn doors. It couldn’t have disrupted all the things around our property. I was not the last person in our barn Saturday night.”
Less than a week after the April 8 fire, Welton had taken out a personal protection order against her neighbor.
In the affidavit requesting the order, Welton claimed Mellema often came onto her property carrying a gun. She said he once brought a dead owl to her house, admitted to cutting her pasture fences and being in the barn at night.
She also suspected that Mellema of tampering with the horses and barn.
Last week, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told 24 Hour News 8 that Mellema was the main suspect.
Mellema was in court Thursday where he is accused of cutting off the GPS tether he was wearing as part of his probation following a November plea to second-degree home invasion.
He was placed on two-and-a-half years of probation with no jail time as part of an arraignment called the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which allows defendants under 21 to avoid a felony conviction on their record if they abide by the terms of the court.
His court file includes Mellema’s criminal and behavior history which includes that Mellema attended a therapeutic boarding school in North Carolina starting in eighth grade and continuing through the end of high school.
Psychologists wrote that Mellema had multiple hospitalizations at Pine Rest and Forrest View and a center in Texas.
He was fired from one job for smoking marijuana at work, displays antisocial personality features and has a variety of other mental health issues
The reports also say that his behavior problems included “fire-setting.”
In November, Mellema’s attorney said Mellema’s father had hired mentors to be around his son so he is supervised 24/7.
Mellema remains in the Kent County Correctional Facility pending a probable cause hearing coming in mid-May.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help The Barn for Equine Learning rebuild.