Prosecutor: Baye guilty of ‘extreme cruelty.’ Defense: Baye lied, but did not set fires.
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Anthony Baye of Northampton, seen here in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield on Thursday, today pleaded guilty to 48 counts of arson and related charges. The plea deal reduced two counts of murder to manslaughter. Purchase photo reprints »
Anthony Baye and lawyer David Hoose during the trial in Springfield Thirsday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
Hampden Superior Court Judge, Constance M. Sweeney during the Anthony Baye trial Thursday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
Right, lawyer, David Hoose and Anthony Baye during the trial in Springfield Thursday morning.
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Anthony Baye waves at family as the trial started Thursday morning in Springfield. Purchase photo reprints »
Special prosecutor, Brett Vottero during opening statements of the Anthony Baye trial in Springfield Thursday morning.
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Special prosecutor, Brett Vottero during opening statements of the Anthony Baye trial in Springfield Thursday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
David Hoose during opening statements of the Anthony Baye trial in Springfield Thursday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
David Hoose during opening statements of the Anthony Baye trial in Springfield Thursday morning.
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SPRINGFIELD — Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Anthony Baye arson and murder trial agree there are no eyewitnesses and no direct physical evidence connecting him to the 2009 arson spree that left two men dead and a city in an uproar. They also agree that Baye lied about many things that night.
Whether he set the more than a dozen fires in Northampton on Dec. 27, 2009, is where the two sides differ in a big way.
In opening arguments Thursday, defense attorney David Hoose told the jury that Baye, “the consummate local guy,” has been wrongfully accused of “the most serious thing any of us can be accused of in this life.”
Special prosecutor Brett Vottero told jurors they would be “satisfied” beyond a reasonable doubt that Baye had set the fires that terrorized Northampton that night. And, he said, Baye himself will provide the missing pieces connecting him to the fires through recorded police interviews.
“The most powerful evidence will be from his own lips,” Vottero said
Vottero also told jurors in Hampden Superior Court that Baye lied to police on several occasions beginning the morning of the fires and continuing through the investigation in order to create an alibi that would mean he would not be identified as the person who set 15 fires throughout Northampton in the middle of the night Dec. 27, 2009.
Vottero said Baye gave false and contradictory statements to police about where he was that morning, until confronted by his parents following his arrest on Jan. 4, 2010, when he told them he was out by himself that morning.
Vottero called that admission “One moment of truth, one brief moment,” amid a half-dozen lies about where Baye was.
Hoose admitted to the jury of 16 that his client was guilty of the six counts he faces of misleading a police officer, but those lies, Hoose said, were uttered to avoid a potential drunken driving arrest after a night of partying with friends.
“He told a lie, he didn’t set a fire,” Hoose said.
Baye, 27, of 85 Hawley St., Northampton, faces two murder charges and multiple counts of arson in connection with the fires Dec. 27, 2009. Among them was one on Fair Street that killed Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and Paul Yeskie Jr., 39, and destroyed their home. The fires destroyed another home and multiple cars, and damaged porches and outbuildings. Six of the charges Baye faces carry life sentences.
Vottero spent about 10 minutes of his 30-minute opening statement showing the jury a large map, pointing out the location of each of the 15 fires and attempted fires Baye is accused of setting.
Jurors heard some details about the Fair Street fire that killed the Yeskies.
Vottero said a frantic 911 call was made by one of the men about 2:11 a.m., telling the dispatcher they were trapped by a fire that had engulfed the front porch of their home.
The senior Yeskie’s wife, Elaine, and her roommate escaped the blaze from a second-floor fire escape, but father and son were unable to escape through the first floor’s only exit, Vottero said.
Vottero said about eight minutes after the 911 call was made, officers who responded to the fire could no longer hear men’s voices from inside.
The bodies of the Yeskies were found in the first floor’s rear bathroom, where they apparently were making an attempt to escape through the bathroom window before succumbing to smoke inhalation, Vottero said.
Vottero made a point of describing the circumstances of the Yeskies’ deaths to explain why the state was seeking first-degree murder charges against Baye.
Baye’s indifference to starting a fire at an occupied home, causing the deaths of two people inside, demonstrated “extreme atrocity or cruelty,” Vottero said.
Vottero described a night of chaos during which firefighters and police were overwhelmed by the sheer number of fires and attempted fires being reported in the city.
He said Baye was stopped by police three different times that morning in the vicinity of some of the 15 fires. Each time, he said, Baye lied to police about where he had come from and where he was going.
As the investigation continued in the aftermath of the fires, Vottero said, Baye became increasingly concerned about people he claimed he was with that morning helping to establish an alibi for him.
One of those people, Zachary Buscher, eventually gave police an account that contradicted everything Baye had told them about where he was that morning, Vottero said.
Vottero said Baye’s story changed several times and included versions where he was in a drunken blackout and didn’t remember what he was doing, to leaving a party at the World War II Club in Northampton and watching a movie at Buscher’s house until about 3 a.m., to driving around alone in the early morning hours of Dec. 27.
“Why this lie? Why that lie?” Vottero rhetorically asked the jury.
Hoose delivered a 40-minute opening statement in which he acknowledged that Baye repeatedly lied to police about his whereabouts, and maintained that he is guilty only of those six charges.
Hoose asked jurors to put aside the emotions that would likely arise from the frantic 911 calls, autopsy photos of the Yeskies and photos of the damage and devastation left in the wake of the fires they would see and hear, and judge the case solely on the evidence, which, he said, is scant.
Hoose said there is no forensic evidence linking Baye to any of the fires, and searches of his home, clothing, car and computer led to “absolutely nothing.”
Baye became a suspect after police records revealed he had been stopped and questioned by police three times the morning of the fires, Hoose said.
Hoose said Baye had been at a reunion of recent Northampton High School graduates at the World War II Club on Conz Street, left to go to another party, returned back to town and decided to drive around the city.
“If only he had gone home,” Hoose said.
Police who were stationed near fires spotted Baye driving and asked him where he was going, and each time he said he was coming from a different address and heading to a different address.
Hoose said he was trying to avoid potentially being arrested for driving under the influence and was only hoping to convince police he was close to his last stop and to let him continue on his way as he drove along back streets in his neighborhood trying to get back home.
Baye allegedly was shocked when told by one officer about the fires in the area, Hoose said.
Hoose said authorities were under enormous pressure to make an arrest in the days following the fires after an exhaustive investigation turned up nothing.
“We know he was in the area, we know he lied about where he was, so he must be guilty,” Hoose said characterizing the investigation for the jury.
Hoose said it was Baye’s attempts to avoid being arrested for one crime that caused him to be arrested and charged with others.
Hoose quoted Sir Walter Scott’s famous line, “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” to encapsulate the situation Baye found himself in.
Following opening statements, jurors were taken by bus to the scenes of the 15 fires in Northampton before being taken back to Springfield, where they were expected to be dismissed for the day, according to Judge Constance M. Sweeney, who is presiding over the case.
Testimony is scheduled to begin this morning, with the state’s first witness expected to be dispatcher Kelly Woods, according to Vottero.
About 60 from a list of about 140 potential witnesses are expected to testify, Vottero said.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Follow @BDGazette on Twitter for live updates throughout the trial. Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.