Jury finds Parkville man guilty of murder, arson

May 04, 1993|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

A Baltimore County jury yesterday convicted a 46-year-old man of setting a fire in his Parkville apartment that killed his upstairs neighbor -- apparently to prove that the building was a firetrap.

The jurors took four hours to find Paul K. McInturff, formerly of the 2500 block of Wentworth Road, guilty of murder, arson and four counts of reckless endangerment of his surviving neighbors in the 3:30 a.m. fire Aug. 4.

Assistant State's Attorney James G. Pyne said he will seek life without parole for the murder conviction -- a felony murder because the death resulted from the arson. Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel ordered a presentence investigation.

Mr. Pyne and fellow prosecutor David P. Lunden said McInturff was a veteran building-maintenance contractor who became disabled with a back injury and apparently became obsessed about what he thought were unsafe conditions and flaws in the two story house, which had been converted into five apartments.

The defendant didn't testify, but his attorney, Margaret A. Mead, introduced evidence that he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the fire, not remembering what happened.

Mr. Pyne told the jury in his closing argument that if this were true, the stress probably resulted from "accidentally killing someone upstairs" by starting the fire in a misguided experiment to prove his complaints about the building were valid.

"He was convinced it was a fire trap, and it was a firetrap. It just got out of control very quickly."

McInturff's concern was fueled by the discovery earlier that summer of pipe bombs in the apartment of a neighbor who had apparently committed suicide, attorneys for both sides said.

Follow-up police and fire investigations did find violations in the building -- including nonfunctioning smoke alarms that cast doubt on McInturff's insistence that he heard the hallway smoke alarm, the prosecutors said.

McInturff never confessed to setting the fire that killed his upstairs neighbor, 33-year-old Kathleen Marie McCoy, but he offered police and fire investigators a variety of theories, including teen-age vandals, his fellow neighbors and people who secretly tucked pouches of flammable substances into his couch, which was melted by the heat.

The defendant wept last week at the close of the state's case as he listened with the jury to a tape of hysterical calls to the county's 911 emergency number from the victim and the other upstairs neighbor, a woman trapped with her 14-month-old son. She handed the infant to neighbors and escaped down a ladder they had propped up.

The dead woman, Mrs. McCoy, could be heard screaming loudly -- to the point where her voice strained and broke -- "Hurry! Hurry! I can't get out. It's in the hallway! HURRY!"

She was found under a high and narrow window, injured by smoke and flame, and died soon afterward.

McInturff, too, was on the tape -- although he spoke in a far calmer tone.

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