Possible racial motive in arson investigated

Suspect's home searched by federal investigators

December 24, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

GREENBELT - Investigators are looking into whether a defendant they are calling the ringleader was racially motivated when he allegedly led a conspiracy to destroy a Charles County subdivision in Maryland's most expensive residential arson.

Patrick S. Walsh, 20, was ordered yesterday to remain in jail without bail until trial after a hearing in which his attorney disclosed that federal agents had searched Walsh's Fort Washington home the night before. A short time later, one of his co-defendants was allowed to await trial while confined to his home.

According to the Walsh search warrant, among the items the investigators were authorized to seize were "any evidence of a racial nature indicating membership in or affiliation with any racially identified group or organization."

The warrant goes on to specify that agents would be looking for "paraphernalia associated with white supremacist, neo-Nazi, skinhead or other extremist group of ideologies that espouse violence against minorities."

All of the six young men charged in the Dec. 6 fire in which 10 unoccupied homes were destroyed and 16 damaged in the Hunters Brooke subdivision in Indian Head are white. Most of the buyers of the expensive new homes in Hunters Brooke are African-Americans. Damage has been estimated at $10 million.

The U.S. attorney's office did not disclose why it suspected that racially inflammatory material might be found at the home, where Walsh lives with his parents. Prosecutors have hinted at a possible racial angle but have not labeled the arson a hate crime. They did not say whether any race-related material was found in the search.

Affidavits filed with the requests for that warrant and seven others issued Wednesday were sealed. One of the other warrants, which covers the same items, gives agents permission to search the purple Chevrolet Cavalier registered to Walsh and his mother.

The warrants also show that investigators were looking for material that could be used to set fires, charts or maps showing arson locations, items related to fire departments or law enforcement agencies, computers, mobile phones and other evidence.

A similar warrant was issued allowing agents to search a Chevrolet Lumina co-owned by co-defendant Michael M. Everhart, 20, of Waldorf.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connelly also approved other warrants - not seeking racially related materials - affecting co-defendants Aaron L. Speed, 21, of Waldorf and Jeremy D. Paraday, 20, of Accokeek.

The warrants were disclosed the same day five of the six defendants were scheduled to appear at the U.S. District Court here for separate detention hearings.

Roy T. "Brian" McCann, 22, became the first of the suspects to be released from jail as Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day decided the case against him was based largely on the uncorroborated word of Everhart. McCann of Waldorf was ordered to remain inside his mother's house and to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet at all times.

A court official said McCann is unlikely to be released for Christmas because of the time it takes to set up electronic home monitoring.

Earlier, prosecutors identified Walsh as the author of the arson scheme.

"Patrick Walsh was the one that first came up with the idea and began approaching others," Assistant U.S Attorney Donna C. Sanger said. "He is the instigator. He's been talking about this since at least August of this year."

Sanger also elaborated on the group of young people, including many of the suspects, known as The Family or the Unseen Cavaliers. The prosecutor portrayed the group as a shadowy, tightly knit organization bound by an oath of membership.

Walsh was the leader of the group, Sanger said. "What the defendant wanted to do in this case is make a name for The Family," she said.

William Purpura, Walsh's attorney, pleaded with the judge to release his client under the same terms imposed on McCann. The lawyer based his argument largely on Walsh's lack of a juvenile or criminal record and his strong ties to a stable family willing to put up their homes to guarantee his appearance.

The lawyer conceded that the suspects might have shown "greatly misplaced adolescent judgment" but denied any motivation other than notoriety or any desire to harm anything but property. He pointed out that an African-American friend of Walsh had come to court to show his support.

Day, who is black, brushed aside the friend's support as irrelevant and ruled that the government had a strong case against Walsh and had shown he would be a danger to the community if released.

The other defendants scheduled for hearings yesterday also remain in jail.

Everhart's hearing was postponed without explanation, and a court official said it would be held next week. Paraday's attorney, Timothy Sullvan, asked for a postponement of his client's detention hearing until Jan. 4 so that Paraday's mental condition could be evaluated.

Michael E. Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington waived his hearing yesterday to give his attorney time to gather information to present at a preliminary hearing Jan. 10. Speed remains in custody after being denied bail Tuesday.

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