Baye jury nearly complete, opening arguments Thursday
POOL PHOTO/The REPUBLICAN
Defense attorney David Hoose, left, consults with defendant Anthony Baye in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield on Monday during jury selection in his arson and murder trial. Opening arguments are scheduled for Thursday. Purchase photo reprints »
Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney Monday threw out charges stemming from fires set between May and November of 2009, which means Anthony Baye will be tried only on fires set Dec. 27, 2009 in the trial that starts this week in Hampden County.. Purchase photo reprints »
Anthony Baye of Northampton, seen here in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield on May 2, today pleaded guilty to 48 counts of arson and related charges. The plea deal reduced two counts of murder to manslaughter. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — When Anthony Baye’s arson and murder trial begins this week it will have been about three and a half years since his arrest on charges stemming from 15 fires that were set in the span of a few hours on Dec. 27, 2009.
During that time, the trial was delayed, a new district attorney was elected, portions of Baye’s confession were thrown out by a judge, charges of arson and murder were dropped, Baye was re-indicted by a grand jury, and significant pieces of evidence prosecutors had intended to present to a jury were ruled inadmissible.
Within the last week, the trial was moved from Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton to the Hampden Superior Court in Springfield, and on Monday, Judge Constance Sweeney threw out charges connected to any earlier fires after ruling the theory that one person set all of the fires Baye was charged with would not be allowed at trial.
After picking the 15th juror Tuesday, court officials decided to set opening arguments for 9 a.m. Thursday.
Today, court will convene to choose the final juror — there will be 12 jurors and four alternates — and take care of a few other pre-trial matters. Thursday, after opening arguments, jurors will be taken to see the locations of the fires.
Baye, 27, of 85 Hawley St., Northampton, faces two murder charges and multiple counts of arson in connection with the Dec. 27, 2009, fires. Among those fires was one on Fair Street that killed Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and Paul Yeskie Jr., 39, and destroyed their home. Six of the charges Baye faces carry life sentences if he’s convicted.
The first fire on Dec. 27 broke out just before 2 a.m., a house fire on Union Street that left four people homeless.
Over the course of the next three hours, reports of fires set at houses and vehicles came at a rapid clip into the city’s emergency dispatch department.
Firefighters from across the region lent their assistance to combat the fires set in Ward 3 and beyond, including Highland Avenue, Williams Street, Pomeroy Terrace and Franklin Street, Crescent Street, and other locations.
Firefighters and police responded to reports of fires and attempted fires in the area until at least 10:35 that morning.
In the days following the fires, local and state police focused their attention on Baye, who had been seen by police near the spots where some of the fires broke out that night.
Baye was brought in for questioning and eventually placed under arrest about 8 p.m. Jan. 4, about 10 hours after funeral services for the Yeskies were held in Northampton.
That arrest was based, in part, on Baye’s own words during a 10-hour recorded interview with police about a week after the fires.
Baye was originally arraigned on the two murder charges and one count each of arson and attempted burglary in connection with the fatal Fair Street fire, and later indicted by a grand jury on 30 charges connected to all 15 fires set that night and held without bail.
In October, 2010, Baye’s defense team of Thomas Lesser and David Hoose, both of Northampton, sought to have Baye’s confession — which they maintained had been improperly obtained — thrown out.
They argued that Baye had been coerced into confessing after state troopers minimized the seriousness of the potential charges against him.
In mid-December 2011, while the DA’s office was preparing to change hands between outgoing Elizabeth D. Scheibel and District Attorney-elect David E. Sullivan, former Hampden County prosecutor Brett Vottero was tapped by the new administration to take over as special prosecutor in the case.
Vottero was chosen, in part, due to his familiarity with the case and his success at arson prosecutions, with about 100 convictions to his credit.
In August 2011, Sweeney ruled against the defense and allowed Baye’s alleged confession, stating that he’d made those statements voluntarily even though investigators had used coercive techniques.
On Sept. 9, 2011 the state Supreme Judicial Court agreed to take up the issue of Baye’s confession, pushing back the start of the trial, which had originally been set to begin on Sept. 26, 2011.
The SJC ruled in May 2012 that Baye’s confession had been improperly obtained and ruled it inadmissible.
In June 2012, the DA’s office dropped most of the original charges against Baye, including murder and arson, leaving only six charges of intimidation of a witness for misleading a police officer in place.
Meanwhile, prosecutors had brought Baye’s case back to a grand jury for a new indictment.
In light of the reduced charges, Baye had new bail set at $150,000, but remained in custody.
Eight days after prosecutors dropped the most serious charges against Baye, he was re-indicted by a grand jury on not just the original charges connected to the Dec. 27, 2009, fires, but on charges connected to fires and burglaries dating back to 2007 in the Hawley Street neighborhood where Baye had long lived.
Baye continued to be held without bail following the new indictment.
A new trial date was set for May 6, 2013, and in January, Baye’s defense team unsuccessfully filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that there was no evidence to connect him to the fires, and that evidence heard by the grand jury about Baye’s alleged drug use and petty vandalism was “inflammatory” and only introduced to help secure an indictment.
Defense lawyers also claimed the evidence submitted to the grand jury was based, in large part, on an expert opinion they disputed, that one person was responsible for all 25 fires since 2007.
“To reach the conclusion that the defendant was responsible for these past fires, the grand jurors clearly resorted to conjecture and speculation,” the lawyers wrote seeking dismissal.
In April 2013, Sweeney denied the defense request, though she also ruled there was not enough evidence to link the six 2007 fires to either group of 2009 fires, which meant those earlier fires would not be part of the trial.
Sweeney also ruled that jurors would not hear information about a lack of fires in the Ward 3 neighborhood since Baye’s arrest, and limited testimony about alleged drug use by Baye to only the night of the Dec. 27 fires.
On May 2, citing concerns about maintaining jury integrity, Sweeney opted to have the trial heard in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield.
The following day, Sweeney sided with the defense when she ruled inadmissible the prosecution’s theory that one arsonist was responsible for all 20 fires Baye was accused of setting in 2009.
Baye’s defense team had called Kevin Kelm, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent and criminal profiler, who said while it appears the 15 fires Dec. 27 were set by the same person, there weren’t enough unique characteristics among the fires to conclude one person set all 20.
With the connection between the two groups of fires gone, Sweeney ruled Monday that Baye would be tried only on the 15 fires from Dec. 27, 2009.
Prosecutors had expected the trial to last up to three weeks, but in light of some of the charges being dropped, Vottero said the state may be ready to rest its case by May 17.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.