WESTMINSTER — The case of a man accused of setting his house on fire last June is set to go to a Carroll Circuit Court jury today.
John Martin Johnston, 37, formerly of Linwood, is charged with setting the fire at hishome in that community on June 14, 1990.
After four days of testimony in the case, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. is scheduled to instruct the jury on how the law applies in the case starting at 9:30 a.m.
Deputy State's Attorney Ed Ulsch and Owings Mills defense attorney Don Benter are set to give their closing arguments after the instruction.
Johnston was charged with setting the blaze by State Fire Marshal Frank Rauschenberg one month after it occurred.
The fire at the home in the 200 block of Clear Ridge Road caused an estimated $75,000 damage. Thirty firefighters from New Windsor, Union Bridge and Taneytown battled the blaze, which theyput out in about 20 minutes.
Johnston and a 19-year-old New Windsor firefighter were treated for smoke inhalation in the fire, which killed Johnston's
pet Doberman. Johnston reportedly told fire officials he thought it may have been caused by a cigarette because he wassmoking on the couch shortly before the fire.
The evidence against Johnston includes a tip to the Carroll Crime Solvers hot line, in which the caller said he thought the fire had been deliberately set because Johnston once said he wanted to burn the house down and move toMaine.
The caller, Richard King of Linwood, testified on behalf of the prosecution, along with county resident Carl Bailey.
Both men said they heard Johnston and Owings Mills resident Dennis Krisher discuss how to burn the house down in the least suspicious way while the four men watched a football game.
Krisher originally was charged with conspiracy to commit arson in the case, but the charges against him were dropped when he agreed to testify for the state.
Krisher said he did not conspire to set the fire, but simply answered a question about what kind of fire would be least suspicious.
The defense maintains that King and Bailey made up their story to get Johnstonin trouble because Johnston and Krisher were witnesses against the two men in an unrelated criminal case.