Anthony Baye arson, murder trial moved to Springfield
05/02/13 Springfield- Republican Photo by Mark M.Murray - Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, makes a ruling in the Anthony P. Baye, case during a hearing in his case Thursday.
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.
05/02/13 Springfield- Republican Photo by Mark M.Murray - Prosecutor Brett Vettro, left questions, Kevin Kelm, right, an expert witnesses for the defense, during a hearing on the Anthony P. Baye trial, held in Hampden Superior Court Thursday.
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..
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.
SPRINGFIELD — A judge Thursday decided to move next week’s arson and murder trial of Anthony Baye from Northampton to Springfield, saying she was “insecure about maintaining the integrity of the jury.”
Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney also will decide whether jurors will hear testimony that all the suspicious fires Baye is charged with setting in Northampton were the work of a lone arsonist.
Sweeney, the presiding judge in the case, said in court Thursday that though she knows it will inconvenience people from Northampton, “it’s 15 miles between Northampton and Springfield.”
“We’re not in the buggy days,” she said. “I’m simply not willing to risk the integrity of the jury.”
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.
Also Thursday, Sweeney heard testimony from an expert witness, Kevin Kelm, who challenged the prosecution’s contention that a lone arsonist set all the fires.
Jury selection is set to begin Monday, with opening arguments tentatively set for Wednesday.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks with up to 90 potential witnesses.
Though jury selection was to be held in Springfield next week to seat jurors who are not familiar with the case, the trial itself was to be held in Hampshire Superior Court, with jurors ferried to Northampton daily.
But at Thursday’s hearing, Sweeney said for “logistical” reasons that plan is not the right one.
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan argued against the change of venue in court, saying there are many witnesses and victims who will be testifying who will be extremely inconvenienced.
Sullivan said he thought transporting 16 jurors back and forth between counties would be less burdensome than having approximately 40 victims and 90 potential witnesses who had planned to participate or watch the trial in Northampton travel to Springfield.
Sweeney noted Sullivan’s objection, but stuck with her decision, noting it had “nothing to do with inconvenience or hardship.”
Following the approximately 2½-hour hearing, Sullivan said he was disappointed with the ruling, but didn’t think it would change how the case will be tried.
Sweeney said she will decide by Monday whether to allow Michael Mazza, a state trooper assigned to the fire and explosives investigation section, to present an expert opinion that the approximately 20 fires Baye is accused of setting throughout 2009 were all set by the same person.
On the witness stand, Kelm, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent and criminal profiler, said from the information he reviewed it appears all of the fires on Dec. 27, 2009, were likely set by the same person.
Kelm said that conclusion was based in part on the timing of the fires and how close they were to each other.
But Kelm testified there is not enough information to say that the same person responsible for the Dec. 27 fires was also responsible for the five fires set between May and November of 2009.
Following the hearing, Kelm said that in his opinion, there was also not enough information to determine if the same person set all five of the pre-Dec. 27 fires.
Kelm said there wasn’t enough evidence to present to a jury the theory that one person was responsible for all 20 fires.
One of Baye’s defense attorneys, Thomas Lesser, argued that the lone arsonist theory was “speculation” and “a hunch.”
“It’s not the type of thing the jury should be hearing,” Lesser said.
Kelm said that much of what the report called “trends and characteristics” of the fires are far too common among arsons to unequivocally link them to one person.
There doesn’t appear to be a “signature” or other unifying factor that makes the fires or how they were set unique enough to determine they were all set by one person, Kelm said.
Kelm said it appears the earlier fires were set by a “serial” arsonist, one who habitually sets fires, but may go long periods without setting them.
The Dec. 27 fires would have been set by a “spree” arsonist who sets three or more fires in a short period of time, Kelm said.
He said that the two types of arsonist usually don’t overlap.
One factor that separated the groups in Kelm’s opinion was the Dec. 27 fires were often set on enclosed porches or inside motor vehicles, which broke the pattern of the earlier 2009 fires, all of which were set in the open.
Under cross-examination by special prosecutor Brett Vottero, Kelm admitted that he wasn’t aware that it was raining the night of Dec. 27, 2009.
Vottero suggested it was the weather that drove the arsonist to break the pattern of the earlier fires and set them in enclosed places protected from the elements.
It’s the intent of an arsonist to set fires, Vottero said, not just to attempt to set them.
Asked by Lesser whether knowing about the weather conditions that night would change his opinion, Kelm said it wouldn’t.
By telephone Thursday afternoon, Lesser said Sweeney can decide to bar Mazza’s theory about a lone arsonist or allow it.
If she allows it, Lesser said, the defense team may bring in its own expert to provide an alternate theory.
That determination will be made as the trial progresses, Lesser said. He noted that if under cross-examination Mazza’s theory lacks credibility, it may not be necessary to call in another expert witness.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.