Man guilty of torching house freed for appeal Parental duties cited at hearing

October 13, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

A 35-year-old electrician was sentenced to 18 months in jail yesterday for torching his Odenton house last December, but was set free on $50,000 bond pending his appeal.

Robert J. Groseclose maintained his innocence before Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., cited his steady employment record and asked for leniency on behalf of his three small children, who fidgeted in the laps of his wife and mother a few rows behind him.

"I need to be a parent to my children," he said.

Groseclose's attorney, Assistant Public Defender James McCarthy, said the appeals could take between six and 18 months.

Judge Thieme agreed to assign Groseclose to work-release, so that he can serve his term nights at the jail and continue to work days once he begins serving his sentence.

The sentence was identical to the term negotiated prior to Groseclose's trial by Mr. McCarthy and Assistant State's Attorney William Mulford II. But Groseclose told Judge Thieme that deal fell through when he turned it down because he was innocent.

"To this very second, I maintain my innocence," he said.

His wife, Jane Groseclose, said yesterday she and her husband have separated, but that they remain friends. She described him as an "excellent father" who has retained custody of the three children and said he was responsible for one daughter's grades at school improving dramatically last spring.

"He has a very deep devotion to his children," she said.

He also was active in youth softball programs in the Odenton area and is a lifetime member of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association.

Groseclose was convicted by a jury of arson and reckless endangerment Aug. 19 after a two-day trial.

According to testimony, the fire was reported about 7 p.m. Dec. 23 at his home in the 1200 block of Breitwert Ave. by neighbors. He was out with his children Christmas shopping at the time.

Fire investigators suspected the blaze was deliberately set because of the odor of gasoline at the scene, the blue flames visible to arriving fire units 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. Mr. Mulford also pointed out that Groseclose had fallen six months behind on his $910 monthly mortgage payments.

Groseclose had pleaded guilty to two small arson fires in Indiana, Pa., where he had been a campus police officer at a state college.

But Mr. McCarthy said anyone could have broken into Groseclose's house while he was out and set the fire.

He also said yesterday that the insurance company has notified his client that they will deny payments on the house, so that he is liable for the loss.

The fire sparked a community drive to help the family. 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, said the Rev. James D. Manning, the church's pastor.

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