Anthony Baye judge rules jury will not hear lone arsonist theory
Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney ruled Friday that the theory that one person was responsible for 20 suspicious fires in Northampton will not be heard by the jury considering the case against accused arsonist and murderer Anthony P. Baye.
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..
NORTHAMPTON — The theory that one person is responsible for 20 suspicious fires in Northampton in 2009 will not be heard by a jury, a judge ruled Friday.
That decision brings into question whether Anthony Baye will continue to face five counts of arson that stem from fires set between May and November of 2009, according to one of his defense attorneys.
A hearing on that matter is scheduled for Monday morning in Hampden Superior Court, where Baye’s case is scheduled to be tried next week.
Baye, 27, of 85 Hawley St., Northampton, faces two murder charges and multiple counts of arson in connection with about 20 fires in Northampton in 2009, including more than a dozen that terrorized the city on Dec. 27 of that year. Among those fires was one on Fair Street that killed Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and Paul Yeskie Jr., 39.
Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney’s ruling Friday centers on a theory developed by Michael Mazza, a state trooper assigned to the fire and explosives investigation section. Mazza maintains that five fires between May and November of 2009 were set by the same person who set the 15 fires Dec. 27. Though Mazza will testify in the trial, he will not be allowed to talk about that particular analysis of the case.
Those earlier fires have been referred to in court as “group two” fires and the latter as “group three” fires.
“Trooper Mazza’s opinion regarding linkage of the group two fires with the group three fires is excluded from evidence,” part of the brief ruling reads.
“The court’s ruling is correct,” one of Baye’s attorneys, Thomas Lesser of Northampton, said by telephone Friday. “Trooper Mazza would have been giving improper testimony that did not meet the standards of the arson investigation community.”
At a hearing Thursday, Baye’s defense team called Kevin Kelm, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent and criminal profiler, to dispute the prosecution’s theory that a lone arsonist set all 20 fires.
Kelm 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.
Mazza still a witness
Special prosecutor Brett Vottero said Friday that Mazza will still testify as a prosecution witness, but without offering the lone arsonist theory.
The ruling may also mean the prosecution must drop the charges related to the group two fires if there’s no way to connect them to the Dec. 27 fires, Lesser said.
“In light of this ruling, the court will revisit the issue of joinder of the group two and group three fires for purposes of trial,” according to the ruling.
He said the defense team has filed a motion to have the court reconsider its earlier ruling to combine the two groups of fires.
“We’re waiting for Judge Sweeney to issue her finding and that will be Monday morning,” Vottero said.
Sweeney last month excluded from evidence an earlier group of suspicious fires, set in 2007 and referred to a group one.
Jury selection is expected to begin following that hearing, with opening statements tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
The trial was originally slated to be heard in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton, with jurors shuttled from Hampden County, but Sweeney decided Thursday to try the case in Springfield instead.
Vottero said he expects the trial to last about three weeks with up to 90 witnesses being called.
Baye faces a potential life sentence if convicted.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.