Arson trial prosecution plans to end case Tuesday

Fort Washington man, 21, accused in Charles Co. fires

August 25, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

Federal prosecutors likely will conclude their case early next week against the accused organizer of one of the largest residential arsons in state history, the judge announced yesterday.

The trial of Patrick S. Walsh, 21, of Fort Washington started one week ago, and prosecutors plan to finish their presentation to the jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by Tuesday.

They are expected to call to the witness stand at least one of two men who have admitted their roles in the fires set Dec. 6 in Charles County.

After the defense rests its case, deliberations could begin as soon as the Friday before Labor Day weekend, according to Judge Roger W. Titus.

The Dec. 6 fires destroyed or damaged 35 houses in a growing section of rural Indian Head, an upscale housing community in suburban Washington.

Losses at the Hunters Brooke subdivision were estimated at $10 million. Prosecutors have called more than a dozen witnesses, from Walsh's friends to fire investigators, to establish how and why the fires were set.

Witnesses described Walsh as the de facto leader of "the Family," a group of drag racing enthusiasts who met regularly at a Denny's restaurant in Waldorf.

According to court testimony and statements from co-defendants, Walsh hoped to make a name for his group by burning houses.

Titus has allowed testimony and evidence of previous "bad acts" by Walsh, including fires and a purported plot to blow up a car. Yesterday, an FBI agent said authorities searched a safe in Walsh's home and found an empty container of black rifle powder and an unloaded handgun.

Walsh talked about building bombs in the fall of 2004 and said he set at least one car fire on a Wendy's restaurant parking lot, according to Jessica Robinson, who testified that she spent many nights hanging out with Walsh and others in Denny's back room known as "the pit."

Aaron Speed and Jeremy D. Parady appeared on a prosecution list of possible witnesses at the beginning of the trial.

Each has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson. Neither has been sentenced.

Yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger told the court that prosecutors do not intend to call Speed. Parady, however, is expected to testify Friday for the prosecution.

Yesterday's testimony featured an account from Michael E. Gilbert, who was arrested in the arson case but had charges against him dropped.

He told authorities in December that Walsh had told him about a plan to burn down homes at Hunters Brooke. But on the stand yesterday, Gilbert, 21, testified that he felt forced into making a false statement.

Defense lawyer William B. Purpura Jr. asked Gilbert about his statement to authorities, in which he had said Walsh planned the arsons to "make `the Family' bigger."

"That's a lie," Gilbert replied.

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