Former Easthampton man found not guilty in Forbes library fire, cayenne pepper case

  • Eric Nathaniel Bertrand at his trial in Hampshire Superior Court on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.  STAFF PHOTO/BERA DUNAU

Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2019 4:40:26 PM

NORTHAMPTON – A man who set fire to a Forbes Library staircase in 2014 that caused more than $200,000 in damage and who threw cayenne pepper on patrons at Whole Foods in Hadley days earlier was found not guilty of criminal charges by reason of mental illness and will remain committed to a secure mental health facility.

Judge Mark Mason found Eric Nathaniel Bertrand, 59, formerly of Easthampton, not guilty on six counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of burning a building. The ruling had been requested by both Assistant District Attorney Matthew Thomas and Bertrand’s defense counsel, Alan Rubin. 

Thomas asked that Bertrand remain committed to a mental health facility. 

“Not every not guilty by reason of mental illness results in commitment but here it’s absolutely appropriate,” Thomas said in court. 

Bertrand was returned to Vibra Hospital in Springfield, where he has been receiving treatment. A hearing on the status of his commitment will be held on April 25.

In the trial, the commonwealth produced witnesses that testified to Bertrand’s involvement in the library fire and incident at Whole Foods, both of which Bertrand has admitted to doing. 

The defense, meanwhile, called on psychologist Michael Sherry, who testified about Bertrand’s mental illness. Sherry said that Bertrand was delusional and that he felt he was being persecuted by the government and under constant surveillance at the time of the incidents and that he was being subjected to auditory torture. After his arrest for setting a fire on a stairway in Forbes Library, it was determined that Bertrand was suffering from tinnitus. 

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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