WESTMINSTER — The trial of a 29-year-old East Main Street man accused of setting several small fires in the Winchester Exchange building last Septemberis expected to begin Tuesday in Circuit Court.
James Henry Cassidy, who at one time did remodeling work in the retail and office mall at 15 E. Main St., was indicted on 17 charges of arson, destruction, breaking and entering and theft in the Sept. 6 incident, in which more than $15,300 of damage was done to the building.
If convicted on all charges, Cassidy could be sentenced to more than 116 years in jail and fined more than $14,500. Usually, however, people convicted of multiple crimes serve sentences concurrently. Thelargest amount of jail time Cassidy would face on any one charge would be the 20-year sentence carried with each arson charge.
The arson charges, levied after close to two weeks of investigation by city police and the State Fire Marshal's Office, stem from several small fires at the Winchester Exchange that slightly damaged the Unique Jewelry store and the building manager's office.
A sprinkler system extinguished the fire in the jewelry store before firefighters arrived at 11 p.m.
The fire in the manager's office was put out by Mark B.Fleming, who at the time was an editor at The Carroll County Sun. During the fire, Fleming was working on the second floor of the building. The sprinkler system in the jewelry shop tripped an alarm that alerted him to the fire.
He, Carroll County Sun editor Edward H. Shurand reporter Kerry R. O'Rourke had been subpoenaed by the State's Attorney's Office to testify Tuesday, but were notified late Friday they would not be needed. O'Rourke wrote the initial newspaper story of the incident, and Fleming had given a statement to city police about a possible suspect.
Units from Westminster, Pleasant Valley, Reeseand Reisterstown in Baltimore County responded to the fire.
Investigators found broken panes of glass in the doors of the manager's office and jewelry shop and a footprint on the second floor. Blood was found on the floor outside the jewelry store, police said.
City police Detective Lt. Dean Brewer investigated the case. He said telephone tips led police to interview Cassidy. He also said the caller toldpolice Cassidy fit the description of the arson suspect published innews accounts.
Court records show that during the arson investigation, police found baseball cards in Cassidy's apartment. Those cardswere taken during a January 1990 theft of Tige's, a baseball card store formerly in the mall, police said.
On Sept. 9, court records show, Cassidy told Brewer that he "had been drinking" and "to set the fire he had used a lighter." The court records also show that Cassidytold Brewer he "threw his shoes and shirt . . . along the railroad tracks to avoid detection."