Odenton electrician's trial on arson charges begins WEST COUNTY--Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

August 18, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A 35-year-old electrician was having trouble paying for his Odenton home last winter, so he burned it down for the insurance money, a prosecutor told a Circuit Court jury yesterday.

Robert J. Groseclose is charged with arson in the Dec. 23 fire that swept through the two-story home on the 1200 block of Breitwert Ave. that he shared with his mother and two children.

In his opening statement, Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II said fire investigators first suspected arson because they smelled gasoline at the fire scene and because of the speed with which the fire ravaged the wood-frame structure. "I'm going to ask you, who may have planned this fire, who may have benefited from it?" Mr. Mulford said to the jurors.

Mr. Mulford said Mr. Groseclose was months behind on his mortgage payments shortly before the fire and that he lied to fire investigators.

Mr. Mulford said the defendant told investigators he left the house unlocked when he left it for the last time -- to take his children Christmas shopping about 6 p.m. that night. The fire broke out between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., he said. But when the door locks were found in the rubble after the fire, they were in locked positions, Mr. Mulford said.

Deputy public defender James McCarthy told jurors that many of the facts being used as evidence by the state -- Mr. Groseclose's financial problems and his confusion over whether he locked his doors -- would be found in many households. "The state's attorney is trying to take a small circumstance here and a small circumstance there and rub them together to find someone guilty," he said.

Mr. Groseclose, a former campus police officer at a state college in Indiana, Pa., has been convicted of arson previously in Pennsylvania, court records showed.

The trial is expected to run for two to three days in Annapolis Circuit Court.

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