Arson suspect pleads guilty

Man admits role in fires at upscale development in Charles County

Claims racial motive

21-year-old cooperated with federal prosecutors

April 29, 2005|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A suspect in arson fires that caused $10 million in damage to an upscale Charles County housing development last year pleaded guilty yesterday, saying he took part because he knew that African-Americans were buying many of the houses.

Jeremy Daniel Parady, 21, of Accoceek pleaded guilty in federal court in Greenbelt to one count of conspiracy to commit arson in connection with the Dec. 6 fires at the Hunters Brooke subdivision near Indian Head.

Charles County, which is predominantly white, has become a fast-growing bedroom community for people who work in Washington.

Many of the people buying houses in new subdivisions like Hunters Brooke are affluent African-American professionals moving farther from the city or from Prince George's County.

In the plea agreement, prosecutors said they would ask the court to impose a sentence of just under 10 years - half of what Parady could have received had he gone to trial and been convicted, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Allen F. Loucks.

Parady is one of six men, all in their early 20s, accused of setting fire to nearly three dozen unoccupied houses in various stages of construction at Hunters Brooke.

No one was injured in the blazes.

Parady had given detailed information to federal authorities early in their investigation that implicated others allegedly involved in setting the fires, according to court papers.

He admitted in the plea agreement to driving one of the vehicles used as the group moved from house to house in the pre-dawn hours setting the fires.

He also said that he recruited others to participate and that he obtained flares used to set some of the fires from a local fire department where he was a volunteer.

While Parady's plea agreement indicates a racial motivation for his participation, authorities have suggested other motives may have been involved in the case.

One of those charged in the case, Aaron Lee Speed, 21, of Waldorf, had worked as a security guard for a company hired to provide security for Hunters Brooke.

According to court records, he was angry with the company for the way it dealt with him after the death of his infant son.

Authorities have also suggested that Patrick S. Walsh, 20, of Fort Washington, who authorities believe was the ringleader of the young men accused of setting the fires, planned the arson to gain notoriety for a group that called itself "The Family."

Most of those charged in the arsons were part of the group, whose members hung out late at night at the Denny's and Wendy's restaurants in Waldorf.

They shared an interest in street racing and in bands such as Insane Clown Posse, a rap-rock band known for its satanic, sinister lyrics.

Parady's public defender, Timothy Sullivan, did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment on his client's decision to enter a guilty plea. Sentencing is set for June 14.

Parady had previously told investigators in interviews that Speed used racial epithets and had said he was mad about blacks moving to Charles County, according to court documents.

But in a court appearance earlier this month, Parady denied making the comments about racial motivations.

Speed's mother, Terri Douglas, said yesterday, "I don't know where the race thing comes from except for Mr. Parady. ... I never brought my kids up that way."

William Purpura, an attorney for Walsh, said Parady lacks credibility to testify against others because he has told different stories under oath.

"I can tell you that as a government witness, he is completely useless," Purpura said.

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