Federal jury begins deliberating in arson trial

Man accused of conspiring to set fires in Indian Head

September 02, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

Jury deliberations will continue this morning in the trial of Patrick S. Walsh, who is accused of conspiring with a tight-knit group of friends to set one of the largest residential arson fires in state history.

In closing arguments yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, prosecutors and Walsh's defense attorney disagreed over how to view the evidence against the 21-year-old race car enthusiast from Fort Washington.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger said Walsh long planned to use the arsons in the Hunters Brooke development in Charles County to showcase the power of his group of friends known as The Family. Prosecutors pointed to Jeremy Parady, who earlier pleaded guilty to his role in the arsons, as their key witness during the three-week trial.

"Someone had to be willing to come forward and say, `I'm willing to tell,'" Sanger said.

But William B. Purpura, the Baltimore attorney defending Walsh, told jurors that the government's case had fallen flat and that his client is innocent.

Purpura said Walsh has an alibi: computer records that show that on Dec. 6, someone using the defendant's screen name was online during the time the blazes were started in the subdivision in Indian Head, Charles County.

Purpura chastised the government for anchoring its case on Parady, who admitted he had lied to investigators, prosecutors and the presiding judge about his role in the fires. "If you can't trust Jeremy Parady, you can't trust the government's case," Purpura said.

Authorities testified that the fires destroyed 20 homes and damaged four more as part of what Parady called a "kick and go" operation. Prosecutors said that at most of the unoccupied homes, the doors were broken in and an accelerant poured in the entryway before they were set ablaze.

Another 11 houses under construction were not burned, but found to have been splashed with accelerant. It was an indication, prosecutors said, that they too would have been burned if the arsonists had more time. Walsh was arrested within weeks of the fires, along with five other men.

Charges against one, Michael Gilbert, were later dropped. Gilbert testified at Walsh's trial that he lied to investigators. Walsh did not, Gilbert testified, earlier tell him that he had participated in the arsons. Another defendant, Aaron Speed, pleaded guilty but did not testify at Walsh's trial.

Sanger told the jury yesterday that Walsh and his friends came from a world where getting a tough-guy reputation was critical and the "police were merely authority figures [with] which to play a game of cat and mouse."

The Family, also called the Unseen Cavaliers for their interest in racing cars, had all the "hallmarks of secrecy," according to Sanger. Relying on Parady was necessary to break the "code" of loyalty and secrecy promoted by Walsh and others, she said. "It's nothing more than a gang," Sanger said.

Walsh provided essential items for arson, including a blowtorch, Sanger said. His previous experience setting fires and his collection of books, including the Anarchist's Cookbook, made him well-equipped to plan to torch Hunters Brooke, according to prosecutors.

At one point during his interrogation by the FBI, an agent asked Walsh what he would do if an accelerant-sniffing dog came up with a "hit" on his car. According to the agent's testimony, Walsh said: "Then I guess you got me."

"This is what we call an admission against interest," Sanger told the jury, describing it as similar to a confession. Purpura countered that there was no written record to back up the FBI agent's claim.

In addition, the defense attorney said, detailed computer records showed that the computer in Walsh's home was logged onto the Internet around the time of the fires. The computer was also used with the same screen name commonly used by Walsh, Purpura said.

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