Westminster man on trial in burning of his 90-year-old house

January 25, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

A Westminster man charged with setting fire to his home last spring didn't do it, his attorney told a Carroll County jury yesterday.

"We will be arguing, adamantly, throughout the trial that he didn't do it," Margaret Mead, defense attorney for Charles Amidee Stair Jr., said in her opening statement to the panel of seven men and five women. "He wasn't there. He loved this particular house, he loved the antiques, the old things. He would not burn them."

But prosecutors disagree. Mr. Stair, 44, was charged with arson and reckless endangerment one week after the March 17, 1993, fire caused more than $50,000 damage to 152 W. Main St., a 90-year-old home that Mr. Stair and his estranged wife had spent years restoring.

"It is the state's contention that the defendant had a motive to nTC set this fire that arose out of a domestic dispute," Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch said in his opening remarks to the jury. "We plan to show you the trigger devices that led to this bizarre act."

Neither Mr. Ulsch nor Ms. Mead disputes that the divorce proceedings between the Stairs were acrimonious.

The prosecutor claimed Mr. Stair set the fire one day after confirming the date the Westminster Bank and Trust Co. was to foreclose on the house and after he had been served with contempt charges filed by his wife, Sally Stair.

Ms. Mead said the house already had been awarded to Mrs. Stair, and Mr. Stair felt it was no longer his concern.

The prosecution began presenting witnesses, including a state trooper who saw flames and smoke coming from the house as she was driving along Main Street.

The trial is expected to last until Thursday, court officials said.

The fire, which started in the basement in strips of wood and cardboard, brought more than 60 firefighters and 11 pieces of fire equipment from Westminster and six other stations as far away as Winfield.

The fire extended inside the west wall of the building, forcing firefighters to tear siding from the house so they could tackle the flames, while others tried to fight it from inside.

The house is now owned by Westminster Bank and Trust and is on the market.

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