Police: Dispute over yard maintenance led Cartersville man to burn down neighbor’s house

Phillip Bennett was meticulous about his lawn. Marty Corbitt, who lived across the street, was not, neighbors say.

“They’d been squabbling over it a couple of years,” said Rick Sullins, who lived near both men on Boatner Avenue in Cartersville. “Phillip even volunteered to cut Marty’s grass for him.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Bennett confronted his neighbor again, and after a brief verbal dispute, he allegedly set fire to Corbitt’s house while the man and his 3-year-old daughter were inside watching television. The Corbitts escaped, unharmed, and Bennett fled in his car, police said.

Thursday morning, after roughly 18 hours on the run, Bennett turned himself in to U.S. marshals in Murphy, N.C.

“I’m just shocked,” Sullins said. “As far as a neighbor goes, you couldn’t ask for a better guy.”

Bennett, charged with arson and a number of other offenses, faces a third stint in prison if convicted. He was incarcerated twice before — for voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault — and Sullins said he was worried he’d be locked up again following a dispute with Corbitt on May 7.

Corbitt told Cartersville police Bennett slapped him twice, unprovoked, after demanding he cut his grass. No charges were filed, but, according to Sullins, Bennett was angry that Corbitt had contacted law enforcement.

“With my record, I’ll probably go to jail,” Sullins recalled Bennett telling him. “Apparently, he just couldn’t let that go.”

It all came to a boil late Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ll kill you if you call the cops again,” Bennett told Corbitt, according to the police incident report. He had come to the house on Boatner Avenue to complain, once again, about his neighbor’s unkempt yard.

Corbitt called 911. Bennett went to his house and returned minutes later with a brick and two large gas tanks, police said.

He threw the brick through the window, hitting Corbitt in the leg, the incident report states.

“After the window was broke Mr. Bennett then threw one of the larger gas tanks though the window so he could pour gas from the other gas tank inside the window,” the report continues. “Mr. Bennett then lit the pouring gas with a lighter knowing that both Mr. Corbitt and his daughter (were) still in the house.”

The house was gutted.

Ironically, according to Sullins, Bennett had been the neighborhood’s peacekeeper prior to the incident with Corbitt.

“He would try to intervene any time there was a dispute,” he said. “This was very out of character for him.”

Bennett is charged with first-degree arson, aggravated assault, first- and second-degree criminal damage to property, damaging public utilities, second-degree burglary, possession of tools for the commission of a crime, reckless conduct, criminal trespass and making terroristic threats.

He is being held in Murphy pending transport to Bartow County.

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