WESTMINSTER — County prosecutors have dropped first-degree murder and arson charges against a homeless man who confessed to setting an April fire that killed one person and destroyed a Main Street apartment building.
In May, a county grand jury indicted 42-year-old Charles Ray "ChickenCharlie" Ogline in connection with the April 24 blaze. Ogline was one of two men who confessed to setting the fire that killed Carvin "Big Joe" Hanna and displaced 12 other residents.
However the charges against Ogline were dropped Monday afternoon in Carroll Circuit Court.
"Based upon the investigation of police and fire officials, we do not believe he (Ogline) had responsibility for the fire and the
death which occurred," Deputy State's Attorney Edward Ulsch told Judge Francis M. Arnold.
The motion to drop charges against Ogline is the latest twist in what investigators have called one of the most unusual cases to come before the county State'sAttorney's Office and the State Fire Marshal's Office.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Rauschenberg testified in county District Court in June that he originally believed Ogline -- a homeless drifter who oftenslept on the apartment building porch -- set the fire in retaliationfor being told by the landlord to stay away from the property or because he had been banned from Ernie's Place, the bar next door.
Ogline was charged just hours after the fire when he admitted to Westminster police that he had set fire to a couch on the porch.
Even though Ogline had been charged, investigators continued their inquiry into the origin of the blaze, which caused an $100,000 damage to the apartment building.
Damage to Ernie's Place was $85,000.
Rauschenberg testified in June that attention shifted May 15 to building resident John Woodward as a suspect.
That occurred after Woodward's roommate, Gary Grimes, told police that Woodward was responsible for the blaze.
Woodward, 44, who was treated for smoke inhalation in theApril blaze, was charged in May with first-degree murder, arson and willful and malicious destruction.Some of the residents who were displaced by the fire say they are confused and disgruntled by the motionto drop charges.
Ernie's Place owner Ernie Jones was angered earlier this summer when Ogline was released from the Carroll County Detention Center without bond.
But in June, District Court Judge Jo Ann Elllinghaus-Jones found there was enough evidence to prosecute Woodward for the crime.
At that hearing, Westminster defense attorney J. Barry Hughes criticized the State's Attorney's Office for chargingboth men. Hughes also called into question the credibility of Grimes, a convicted arsonist. But investigators stand behind Grimes' information.
Woodward's trial is scheduled for Oct. 21 in Carroll Circuit Court. Ulsch said it is likely that Ogline will be called as a state witness.