Man found guilty of arson His Odenton home burned in Dec.

August 20, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A Circuit Court jury convicted a 35-year-old electrician yesterday of torching his Odenton house in December, leaving it burn as he took his children Christmas shopping.

Robert J. Groseclose jerked his head down on the defense table in front of him as the verdict was announced, then sat up quickly and stared at jurors for about 10 seconds, a stunned look on his face.

Neither he nor his attorney, deputy public defender James McCarthy, would comment afterward.

The jury of seven women and five men listened to two days of testimony and deliberated two hours before convicting Groseclose of arson and reckless endangerment. The Dec. 23 fire was reported by neighbors in the 1200 block of Breitwert Ave. at 7:01 p.m.

Groseclose, who remains free on $50,000 bond, could face 30 years in prison when sentenced by Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. Oct. 12.

According to testimony, fire investigators suspected the blaze was deliberately set because of the odor of gasoline at the scene and the speed with which the fire ate up the two-story, wood-frame dwelling.

Jurors were told that Groseclose's homeowner's insurance policy would have paid him up to $250,000 to cover the costs of rebuilding the house and replacing its contents.

In closing arguments yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney William C. Mulford II said that at the time of the fire, Groseclose had taken his two children Christmas shopping, that his mother was out of the house at work and that even the family dog was let out to roam, minimizing the risk of injury.

But he reminded jurors that although no one was hurt, the risk had been created by the gasoline that had been splashed on the floors and set afire.

"Whoever set this fire put a whole lot of people's lives in danger," he said.

Mr. McCarthy told jurors that the insurance company would have replaced the house but would not have made a cash payment to his client.

With the crime rate being what it is, he said, anyone could have broken into the house and started the fire.

"Who else could have started this fire? That's a good question. Kids. A burglar. My God, we've got a crime festival on our hands these days," Mr. McCarthy said.

Jurors were not told that Mr. Groseclose had pleaded guilty to two arson charges in Indiana, Pa., where he had been a campus police officer at a state college.

Nor were they told that he had failed a lie detector test administered by Anne Arundel County fire investigators.

Previous convictions and lie detector tests are inadmissible in Maryland criminal courts.

But they were told he had fallen six months behind on his $910-a month mortgage payments and that firefighters saw blue flames, a sign that gasoline may have been used.

After the fire, the Red Cross helped the family relocate to a neighbor's home and parishioners at the Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church donated $1,500, clothes and Christmas presents to help the family, said the Rev. James D. Manning, the church's pastor.

Mr. Manning said yesterday that he didn't think the conviction would make people more cynical about donating goods and money to victims of house fires.

"I think people respond to a need and not to what has happened in the past," he said. "As far as our people are concerned, the sentiment here was that there were innocent people that were in need, children in need, and that's what we responded to."

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