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Editorial: Anthony Baye, arsonist

Northampton will know Wednesday whether Anthony Baye will spend 19 to 20 years in state prison for setting dozens of fires in 2009 and 2007. That now appears likely, after a plea deal Monday halted his trial.

That day, for the first time in public, Baye took responsibility for a fire that killed two men in 2009 and for many other fires that terrorized a neighborhood. Baye’s fire-setting in Northampton will go down in history as one of the state’s worst arson sprees.

On this witness stand, Baye answered “Yes” as Judge Constance Sweeney went methodically through a list of the fires Monday, asking him repeatedly, “Did you in fact set that fire as the district attorney said you did?”

He did. State police troopers elicited that fundamental truth from Baye a week after Paul Yeskie Sr., an 81-year-old veteran of World War II, and his son Paul, 39, died on Northampton’s night of fires — Dec. 27, 2009.

As the state’s case moved along over the last 3½ years, dogged by a vigorous and astute defense, the prosecution lost the ability to use Baye’s confession. Recent court rulings narrowed the case against Baye to fires set on a single night.

But now it is simple fact: A young man who liked to play with lighters is responsible for the enormous woe that befell the Yeskie family and for the pain and fear endured by countless Ward 3 residents.

And he will be punished for it.

We think the plea agreement to two manslaughter counts delivers a significant punishment to a man who is a danger to others and should not be allowed his liberty for a long time. It falls short of the life sentence that hung over the defendant, and that fact may be difficult for some to accept.

But given the circumstantial nature of the prosecution’s case, following the loss of Baye’s confession, the agreement outlined Monday means this 28-year-old man could remain behind bars until he is nearly 50.

And it answers questions about fires that bedeviled residents of Northampton before Dec. 27, 2009, that could have been left unresolved even if Baye was convicted of the two original murder counts.

Whether it is called murder or manslaughter, the fact is that Baye’s actions resulted in two gruesome deaths. Last week, Hampden Superior Court jurors who have now been thanked and dismissed heard Paul Yeskie Jr.’s voice on a 911 call frantically telling a dispatcher he was trapped inside his burning house on Fair Street. A police officers also testified that he heard screams from inside the burning house. The Yeskies died of smoke inhalation and suffered second- and third-degree burns. There were found together huddled in a bathroom, seeking refuge.

Baye’s legal team succeeded in getting him to the point where he could bargain. Some of the steps taken — and theories advanced — look specious today, particularly the notion advanced by one defense expert that the behavior of a “serial” arsonist and that of a “spree” arsonist do not usually overlap. Well, they do in the case of Anthony Baye.

David Sullivan, the Northwestern district attorney, said Monday that with Baye’s admissions, Northampton “can sleep well tonight.” Sullivan wisely insisted that any deal include Baye taking responsibility for all of the fires. The agreement was supported by both sides: special prosecutor Brett Vottero and defense attorneys David Hoose and Thomas Lesser.

After nearly two decades in prison, Baye will be on probation for 15 years, leaving him under judicial oversight until at least the year 2047, unless he gets credit for time spent awaiting trial.

Though the trial had been moved to Hampden County, this case returns home to Northampton on Wednesday. People can watch as Baye is sentenced in his hometown for what he did to people in his hometown.

Good editorial. Both sides faced risk from a jury decision. Neither wanted to play it all-or-nothing. With the lack of physical evidence there was no guarantee of a conviction. On the other hand, after Elaine Yeskie's testimony there was no guarantee of acquittal. It behooved both sides to come to the table.

So you can burn people's homes, kill people and be out of prison before the age of 50 so you can do it all over again? Really? Did someone think that at the age of 48 you are no longer capable of killing? The US legal system has it's head in the sand.

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