Last modified: Monday, May 13, 2013

SPRINGFIELD — Anthony Baye will be tried on charges related only to 15 fires allegedly set Dec. 27, 2009, after a judge Monday threw out the charges stemming from five other fires set between May and November of that year in a long-awaited trial scheduled to start this week.

Hampden Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney’s decision at a hearing Monday followed up on her ruling Friday that prosecutors could not present their theory that a lone arsonist set all 20 fires, and therefore “severed” the earlier fires from those set at homes and garages and in cars in Wards 2 and 3 in one night that terrorized the city.

Without being able to link the two sets of fires to one person, Sweeney ruled, Baye could not be tried on charges connected to the earlier group of fires.

Baye, 27, of 85 Hawley St., Northampton, faces two murder charges and multiple counts of arson in connection with the Dec. 27, 2009, fires. Among them was one prosecutors say Baye set on a Fair Street porch that destroyed the house and caused the deaths of Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and Paul Yeskie Jr., 39.

Jury selection for Baye’s trial began Monday morning immediately following the hearing, with opening arguments tentatively scheduled for Wednesday morning.

The day ended Monday with five jurors seated; selection will resume today.

In court Monday, special prosecutor Brett Vottero said the state may be able to rest its case by May 17.

In explaining her decision Monday, Sweeney said Michael Mazza, a state trooper assigned to the fire and explosives investigation section, used elements of the 20 fires that Baye was accused of setting throughout 2009 that were “too general” to establish any meaningful connection to prove his lone arsonist theory.

She said using general elements, like the times the fires were started and their locations relative to each other, were good tools to steer the early stages of an investigation, but they did not establish enough of a connection to present a jury with the theory they were all set by the same person.

“Linkage is off the table,” Sweeney said Monday.

In light of that ruling, Sweeney dismissed the six charges against Baye connected to those five earlier fires.

Baye still faces about 30 charges connected to the Dec. 27 fires.

Monday’s ruling was the latest in series of decisions about the much-anticipated trial.

On Thursday, amid concerns over what she described as the “integrity” of the jury, Sweeney moved the trial to Springfield, rather than keeping it Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton as planned. Jurors selected from Hampden County would have been transported from Springfield to Northampton and back each day.

In late April, Sweeney ruled on several pieces of evidence, including disallowing testimony about a lack of fires in the Ward 3 neighborhood since Baye’s January 2010 arrest and limiting testimony about Baye’s alleged drug use.

Baye faces up to life in prison if convicted.

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


 


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