Mental illness cited in arson case not guilty finding  

  • Mark Andre of Amherst in Hampden Superior Court on Tuesday where he was found not guilty of arson by reason of mental illness. MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ

Published: 6/28/2016 11:27:08 AM

SPRINGFIELD — In court Tuesday morning, Mark Andre, the Amherst man accused of setting his own apartment ablaze nearly two years ago and fleeing the scene, was found not guilty by reason of mental illness.

Andre, 55, allegedly started a fire in his Belchertown Road apartment as a means to take his own life in November 2014 — a desperate act of a man down on his luck, said his attorney Korrina Burnham in closing arguments Monday, but one that did not show criminal intent.

Andre was ordered to an unspecified Department of Mental Health facility for up to 60 days pending treatment recommendations by officials there.

The man originally pleaded not guilty to a charge of arson in Hampshire Superior Court.

Burnham told Hampden Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup in the three-day, jury-waived trial that Andre suffered from mental illness most of his life.

At the time of the fire in November 2014, Andre also shared the building with 10 other residents. He also left the apartment complex after he'd started the fire, police said, and was found nearby in his car shortly after the blaze was reported.

No injuries were reported in the fire, although the building’s tenants were temporarily displaced, police said.

Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Matthew Thomas argued in court that, while he acknowledges the act was an apparent suicide attempt, the fire was started in malice. Shortly before the fire, according to previous testimony, Andre had just learned his girlfriend was leaving him and that he would be evicted from his apartment.

Dr. Dean Zarvis, who is a forensic psychologist and runs a private practice in Northampton, previously testified that Andre's thoughts seemed "highly disorganized," and that he believed the man to suffer from a slew of mental disorders including schizoaffective disorder. Zarvis was hired by the defense to evaluate Andre last fall.

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