Man, 43, sentenced to 20 years for arson

No one injured in blaze that killed ex-wife's pets

March 05, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A 43-year-old Baltimore County man received a 20-year prison term yesterday on an arson conviction for starting a fire at his ex-wife's apartment house in Finksburg last year that damaged the building and killed her pets.

Charles W. Durm, formerly of the 2700 block of Yarnall Road, was convicted by a Carroll County Circuit Court jury after a trial in November before Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. He testified that he had been drinking the night of the fire, but denied setting the fire that broke out about 3 a.m. Feb. 24, 2001, at the house in the 3000 block of Old Westminster Pike.

The house had been subdivided into three apartments, with the top floor rented by his ex-wife and daughter, said Senior State's Attorney David P. Daggett, who prosecuted the case. Durm ignited the fire after pouring gasoline on an inside stairwell, Daggett said. Although Durm knew the two women were not at home at the time, Daggett said, each of the apartments on the first two floors was occupied by two adults and two children, who fled and were not injured.

The fire killed his ex-wife's two cats, rabbit and hamster, destroyed about $5,000 worth of her belongings, and caused more than $35,000 damage to the building.

According to testimony, Durm had called his ex-wife at a party 14 times in an hour and a half, then stopped for about half an hour - when the fire occurred - before calling her again.

The Carroll jury found Durm guilty of first-degree arson, second-degree malicious burning, two counts of reckless endangerment and cruelty to animals. Burns imposed a 30-year sentence with 10 years suspended yesterday.

During sentencing, defense attorney J. Barry Hughes said Durm had been despondent at the death of one of his daughters and had been released from a Veterans Affairs hospital four days before the fire after attempting suicide.

Durm is on parole from a federal sentence in a 1983 conviction for a Baltimore County bank robbery, Hughes said. Because of the parole violation, Durm could have served 22 additional years on the federal conviction, but Burns agreed to make yesterday's sentence run at the same time as the federal term.

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