Defendant denies setting fire to his home in Westminster

January 27, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

When his mother told him on the phone that his Westminster house had been on fire, Charles Amidee Stair Jr. said, he was devastated.

"I just cried and shook like a little kid," Mr. Stair testified yesterday in Carroll Circuit Court. "I wanted my children to grow up there, it was a beautiful home."

Mr. Stair, who is charged with setting the March 17, 1993, fire at 152 W. Main St., testified for about a half-hour yesterday. He denied setting the fire as he told the jury of his comings and goings that day.

"Did you set fire to that house?" his attorney, Margaret Mead of Baltimore, asked.

"No, absolutely not, no," Mr. Stair said emphatically.

"Were you on Main Street at all that day?"

"No. Absolutely not."

Although the prosecution admitted from the beginning of the trial that no one witnessed Mr. Stair set the fire, several people testified that they saw the defendant near the house shortly after the fire would have begun.

In testimony Tuesday, two neighborhood residents testified that they saw Mr. Stair leave in his truck at about 3 p.m.

In his testimony yesterday, Mr. Stair denied that, calling one neighbor a drug dealer and the other inaccurate.

He told the panel of seven men and five women that his day took him from his Westminster farm -- he and his estranged wife had vacated the Main Street property months before the fire -- to his real estate office in Finksburg, to Towson, to Reisterstown, and then to the Westminster McDonald's and two Westminster banks. He then said that he met his divorce attorney at his Catonsville office before 4 p.m.

Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch didn't really press Mr. Stair on his itinerary for March 17, but he did present testimony that he said showed Mr. Stair had ample motive to set the fire.

The defendant and his wife, Sally J. Stair, are going through an acrimonious divorce, according to testimony and court records. Mr. Ulsch told the jury that the divorce and custody fight -- coupled with the imminent foreclosure on the $150,000 house last March -- may have prompted Mr. Stair to set fire to the house.

Mr. Stair denied that, saying the foreclosure didn't bother him. He also testified that a contempt complaint -- in which Mrs. Stair claimed her estranged husband was turning their children against her -- didn't upset him.

"I gave her everything she wanted," he said. "I believe in the Lord, and I knew that right would prevail over wrong. I forgave her, and I know with prayer, everything would work out."

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