Prison terms set in arson

3 men sentenced for house fires in Charles County

December 06, 2005|By GREG BARRETT | GREG BARRETT,SUN REPORTER

GREENBELT -- The alleged ringleader of a brazen act of arson that burned a predominantly black housing development in Charles County was sentenced yesterday to nearly 20 years in federal prison.

Two co-defendants who pleaded guilty received substantially lesser sentences.

Nearly one year to the day after more than two dozen homes were damaged or destroyed in the upscale Hunters Brooke subdivision Dec. 6, 2994, Patrick S. Walsh, 21, of Fort Washington was given the strongest reprimand and the longest sentence - 19 years and seven months - by U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus. Walsh is not eligible for parole, but with good behavior could be free in about 17 years.

Saying he feared Walsh would remain a public threat, Titus departed from what he called "hopelessly inadequate" pre-sentencing guidelines that recommended up to 11 years and three months and opted to punish Walsh to the maximum allowable. He said the guidelines were founded on lesser acts of arson.

"This was taking an entire neighborhood and burning it," Titus said as Walsh sat with slumped shoulders and looked downcast. "If there has ever been a case more deserving [of the maximum penalty], I don't know of it."

Two of Walsh's co-defendants, Aaron L. Speed, 22, and Jeremy D. Parady, 21, pleaded guilty and received lesser sentences. Speed, a former security guard at the Hunters Brooke subdivision, received eight years and four months and will serve no less than seven years and one month.

Parady, the driver of the getaway car, who admitted he targeted Hunters Brooke because most of the new homeowners were black, received seven years and three months and will serve no less than six years and two months.

"To someone who thinks the color of [people's] skin makes them inferior - get over it," Titus told Parady. "This is 2005."

In explaining his relative leniency for Parady and Speed, Titus noted their "well-documented" histories of mental health problems, including bipolar disorder. And U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger told Titus the case would have been difficult to prosecute without Parady's cooperation.

Parady and Speed addressed the court and apologized for their parts in the arson that caused more than $3 million in damage. Walsh, who maintains his innocence, did not speak.

Two other defendants who say they are innocent, Roy T. "Brian" McCann and Michael M. Everhart, will be tried next year.

Upon release from prison, Walsh, Speed and Parady were ordered to pay $200 a month in restitution to the victims and to homebuilder Lennar Corp., though Titus said they were unlikely to ever pay the full damages without "winning the lottery."

Titus told Speed: "You didn't just damage a real estate company, you damaged property owners, you damaged Charles County, you damaged the state of Maryland and you damaged the significant progress that people have made in race relations."

Speed spoke in a trembling baritone. "The situation wasn't right. ... I apologize for what happened, but I can't change it," he said as his family sat nearby, some weeping silently. "I apologize to everybody - the victims, everybody."

Equipped with flares, accelerant and a police scanner, prosecutors said the defendants went door-to-door in Hunters Brooke in the drizzly predawn hours of Dec. 6, 2004. They attempted to set fire to 35 unoccupied homes, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said yesterday that the defendants were motivated by several reasons. Primary among them was Walsh's desire to make a name for his Waldorf car-racing club, The Unseen Cavaliers, they said. Others were motivated by racism or because, like Speed, whose infant son had died eight months before the arson, they felt slighted by life, attorneys said.

Attorneys for Walsh and Speed said race was not a factor for their clients. Only Parady, in his written confession, admitted to racist motives. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division did not find enough evidence of racism to warrant hate crime charges.

In court yesterday, Hunters Brooke resident Derrick Potts, 34, described an apocalyptic scene from Dec. 6. He said he woke up and saw several houses burning all around his own, which had not been targeted because it was occupied. He quickly gathered his family and sped away, peering through thick smoke and flames.

"I thought it was a movie and I was waiting for someone to yell, `Cut!' - but that just didn't happen," said Potts.

Potts, a Washington police officer, said that when he arrives home now he places his gun on his lap in case he needs quick access to it. He sleeps in his downstairs living room so that his children, ages 3, 11 and 16, can feel protected, he said.

Hunters Brooke resident Beverly Rowe said to Parady: "I want to know why. Tomorrow will be a year and I still don't know why. ... Does it matter to you how much pain you caused?"

Parady did not reply.

On her way out of court, Walsh's mother, Sally Walsh, said her son is the victim. "My son is innocent; he has always been innocent," she said. "The government can take pieces of your lives and the lies from other people and shatter your life."

Titus said he feared Patrick Walsh had a hopelessly "criminal mind" because of writings confiscated in July from his jail cell. In them, Patrick Walsh described plans to form a club where in which members would commit fraud.

"He was just writing a book," Sally Walsh said.

greg.barrett@baltsun.com

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