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Response of Northampton to deadly fires praised

Defense attorney David Hoose speaks to Debra Baye with defense attorney Thomas Lesser in the background before the sentencing.

Defense attorney David Hoose speaks to Debra Baye with defense attorney Thomas Lesser in the background before the sentencing. Purchase photo reprints »

Sullivan spoke at a press conference held Wednesday after Baye, 28, was sentenced to 19 to 20 years in state prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter, arson and other charges connected to Northampton fires dating back to January 2007.

One of those fires on Dec. 27, 2009, killed Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and his son Paul Yeskie Jr., 39, in their Fair Street home.

About a dozen other fires were set that morning, destroying homes, cars, and creating “anger and confusion” throughout the city, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Northampton responded to the horror of that late-December morning with “caring, compassion, and resilience.”

“In almost 30 years I’ve never seen a case filled with so many heroes,” said special prosecutor Brett Vottero.

Sullivan said he hoped that Baye’s guilty plea would bring closure to the city and that he would be able to rehabilitate himself while in prison.

“Hopefully, this troubled man can confront the issues that caused this,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Vottero agreed that arson cases are some of the most difficult to prosecute because so much of the evidence is destroyed.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the prosecution team,” Sullivan said.

“Today’s sentencing closes a very dark chapter in the city of Northampton,” said Mayor David Narkewicz.

Narkewicz praised the response in the aftermath of the fires by people in Northampton who held a vigil, organized fundraisers, created a Facebook page to support the victims, and organized neighborhood watches.

Narkewicz said the calm demeanor, professionalism and rapid response of the firefighters, police and dispatchers who responded that morning probably saved additional lives.

Northampton Police Capt. Joseph Koncas said it’s “unheard of in arson fires” to have made an arrest of the perpetrator within a week, as was done in the Baye case.

“Today ends one of the darkest days in the history of Northampton,” Koncas said.

Vottero said he couldn’t provide details about Baye’s decision to plead guilty to not only the 36 charges he was on trial for, but to 12 additional ones from earlier fires, except to say that from day one, the only way his office would accept a plea was with Baye taking responsibility for all of the suspicious fires in and around the Ward 3 neighborhoods since 2007.

Vottero said the prosecution was approached by Baye’s defense team of David Hoose and Thomas Lesser about the change in plea Saturday, one day after the trial’s first and only day of testimony was offered.

Vottero said Elaine Yeskie’s “terribly powerful” testimony that day may have played a part in Baye’s decision to plead guilty.

“We believe it was because we were ready,” he said. “In the end we had the truth on our side.”

On Friday, Yeskie recounted from the witness stand how she and her friend the late Carol LaPointe escaped from her home’s second floor while her son and husband were trapped downstairs as the fire raged around them.

At the conference, Yeskie thanked the police and fire departments that responded and “everyone that supported me through this terrible ordeal.”

Yeskie’s granddaughter Erica Desreuisseau said her grandmother lives with the tragedy every day.

“No amount of time is going to make up for that loss,” she said.

“It really is a lesson to never take the people in your life for granted,” Desreuisseau said.

Massachusetts State Trooper Michael Mazza, who investigated the Dec. 27, 2009, arsons and interviewed Baye prior to his arrest, said during those interviews he learned that Baye derived a certain level of excitement from starting fires.

Mazza’s interview techniques, and his theory that one person was responsible for all of the fires Baye pleaded guilty to, came into question when portions of his interview and the linkage theory were ruled inadmissible prior to trial.

“I think it’s nice that everything we testified to turned out to be accurate,” Mazza said after the press conference.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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