Witness testimony allowed in Anthony Baye murder, arson trial
REPUBLICAN FILE PHOTO Opening statements in the murder and arson trial of Anthony P. Baye are scheduled for Thursday at Hampden Superior Court in Springfield. Baye is seen here with a court officer on May 2. Purchase photo reprints »
SPRINGFIELD — Two witnesses who claim they each saw arson suspect Anthony Baye near the scene of two different fires Dec. 27, 2009, will be permitted to testify at his trial, which starts today in Hampden Superior Court.
Both witnesses said they recognized Baye after they saw a photo of him in custody published online following his arrest on arson and murder charges in connection with a series of arson fires — including one fatal fire — set throughout the city that morning.
One of the witnesses told Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney when he testified in Wednesday’s pretrial hearing that he was certain the man he saw in the middle of the night on Eastern Avenue, near where several fires were set that night, was Baye.
“I would not forget that face,” Robert St. Cyr, 51, of Eastern Avenue, said in court Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, the 16th and final juror was seated, paving the way for opening arguments this morning. The first witness is expected to testify Friday.
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.
Baye’s attorneys, David Hoose and Thomas Lesser, both of Northampton, had filed motions to throw out the testimony of the two witnesses, saying their identification of Baye had been influenced by the photos of him in custody after his arrest.
The jury was not present when the two men testified in a hearing.Tweets from @GazetteNow/live-baye-trial-coverage
David Gerwe, 55, said about 3 a.m. the night of the fires, he was awakened by his dog barking at some commotion outside his Crescent Street home. One of the fires that night was a car fire on Crescent Street.
Gerwe said he stepped out and saw a man wearing a dark wool coat with a high collar, with long hair and shoes or boots with a lot of laces approaching him in the opposite direction.
Gerwe said he was struck by the man’s odd behavior, noting that he did not speak nor make eye contact and was wearing inappropriate clothing for the rainy weather.
Gerwe said a few seconds after the man passed him, he heard what he later learned was the tire of a burning car exploding and soon saw the remains of a car fire.
About a week later, Gerwe said he saw a published photo of Baye in custody either outside a police station or courthouse and recognized him as the man who passed him that morning.
Gerwe did not report his encounter to police until January 2013, because he said he felt at the time investigators had enough evidence without his input.
“I didn’t feel it was compelling enough to come forward,” Gerwe said.
Gerwe said when he learned investigators were still open to hearing information about the case he contacted police with the information about what he’d seen.
“I felt compelled as a citizen to come forward,” Gerwe said in court Wednesday. “It was my civic duty to tell the truth about what I saw that night.”
When questioned by Lesser, Gerwe said he was not aware that when Baye was stopped by police the morning of Dec. 27 within 10 minutes of the car fire in his neighborhood, he was wearing a blue blazer and sneakers, not the wool pea-coat and boots described in Gerwe’s statement.
Gerwe acknowledged to special prosecutor Brett Vottero that his memory of Baye’s clothes could have been influenced by the photo, but he was still sure the hair and face of the man he saw was that of Baye.
Meanwhile, St. Cyr said he had been awakened about 3:15 a.m. by commotion in his Eastern Avenue apartment building when a car was spotted engulfed in flames nearby.
St. Cyr said he went outside to see what was going on when he saw a man, whom he did not recognize, wearing dark clothes and jaw-length hair walking onto the street from the direction of nearby Hancock Street.
He said the man looked “dazed” and was drenched as if he had “just gotten out of a shower or pool,” but noted that he had a fresh, dry cigarette.
St. Cyr said he asked the man for a spare cigarette, and was told he had just come from his house and had left the rest of his cigarettes there.
St. Cyr said he remembered the encounter in part because he felt the man was lying about having come from his home because he appeared as if he had been out in the rain for a significant amount of time.
St. Cyr said about a week or two later when he saw a photo online of Baye in custody, he recognized him as the man he had seen the morning of the car fire.
He said he opted not to report the interaction to police, figuring they had enough evidence without his testimony.
He contacted police last October, he said, after learning the case was not the “slam-dunk” he had thought it was after reading information about the investigation.
St. Cyr said he felt it was his “duty as a citizen,” to report the encounter.
Under questioning by Lesser, St. Cyr acknowledged he had been the victim of a house fire in Belchertown some years ago in which he lost everything.
Lesser asked St. Cyr if he said anything to the man he saw that night.
St. Cyr said he had, and that it was that he hoped police would “shoot” whoever was responsible for the fire and that he “didn’t like arsonists.”
Later, Lesser argued to Sweeney that because the published photos of Baye in custody influenced the description both witnesses gave of the man they encountered, their testimony should be thrown out.
Vottero argued their testimony should be allowed, saying they had “extensive opportunity” to observe the man they saw that night.
Sweeney ruled a jury should have the chance to decide how much credibility to give to each witness, and evaluate whether the man they saw that night was indeed Baye.
The morning began with one of the previously 15 seated jurors being excused by Sweeney for undisclosed personal issues. The final two jurors were seated by 10:30 Wednesday morning.
Twelve jurors will ultimately deliberate the case, with the other four serving as alternates.
Follow @BDGazette for live updates during the trial. Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.