WESTMINSTER — The trial of a 35-year-old city man charged with arson and murder isset to begin tomorrow morning in Carroll Circuit Court.
John Woodward is charged with first-degree murder, arson and other offenses inconnection with an April 24 blaze at an apartment building at 88 W. Main St.
The fire killed 49-year-old Carvin "Big Joe" Hanna, a resident ofthe building with Woodward.
The blaze caused an estimated $100,000 damage to the apartment building and left 12 people homeless.
The fire also caused $85,000 damage to Ernie's Place, a bar next door.
Another man, Charles "Chicken Charlie" Ogline, was initially indicted by a Carroll grand jury and charged in the arson and death.
But fire and police investigators continued their probe and charged Woodward less than a month later.
The charges against Ogline have been dropped.
Woodward's attorney, J. Barry Hughes of Westminster, argued in court last month that statements his client made to police about the fire should be kept from a county jury.
Hughes argued before Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck that statements Woodward made May 15 to Westminster Police Detective Lt. Dean Brewer and Deputy State Fire Marshal Frank Rauschenberg about the fire were involuntary and illegally obtained.
The attorney told Beck he believed his client felt pressured into making incriminating statements because he believed Brewer and Rauschenberg were his friends.
Experts testifiedfor the defense that Woodward was mentally retarded and that he could not understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him.
Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch argued that other experts hiredby the state found that Woodward has some learning disabilities but is not mentally retarded. The state's experts said they believed Woodward understood the consequences of his confession.
Beck agreed with the state's argument and ruled that the evidence showed Woodward understood his rights when they were read to him.
Beck wrote that while Woodward may not be the "brightest bulb on the tree" he appearedto understand the consequences of his actions.
In taped statements, Woodward said he set papers afire on the apartment building's porch, seeking "revenge" on Ogline, a drifter who often slept there on a couch.
If Woodward is convicted on the murder charge, he could face life in prison without parole.
Woodward's trial is expected to last more than one week. Jury selection was expected to begin tomorrowat 10 a.m.