chamber of commerce

Youths admit to fairground fire; sentencing set for June 19
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
By Marie Howard - DOVER-FOXCROFT - James McLeod, 16, and Aaron McLain, 17, both admitted in open court on May 13 that they were responsible for the fire that destroyed a pole barn at the Piscataquis County Fairgrounds on April 26. Both charged with arson, were Dover-Foxcroft residents at the time of the crime.

Sentencing on the felony arson charge, however, has been delayed until June 19 pending the results of various forensic evaluations.

Their admissions uttered last Thursday in 13th District Court before Judge Kevin Stitham followed denials made by both youths at their initial court appearances held last month.

Before admissions were entered by both during separate court sessions last Thursday, Piscataquis County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy pointed out to the judge that if the case went to trial, an individual who lived near the fairgrounds would testify that both juveniles used her telephone to report the fire; state fire marshals have determined the fire was deliberately set; both defendants were advised of their rights; both "had given a confession" they told how they started the fire during a video taped interview days after the fire; and that the fire was not started accidentally.

Following Almy's presentation, Judge Stitham asked each of the young defendants: "Do you agree that the facts cited by District Attorney Almy are true beyond a reasonable doubt?" Both answered, "Yes."

Following this initial portion of the proceedings, Almy requested that Judge Stitham defer sentencing pending the results of forensic evaluations because of the seriousness of the crime, stating it was difficult at this time to determine if the youths recognized the seriousness of their crime.

Following the judge's ruling for a June sentencing, discussions zeroed in on obtaining mental health evaluations for Aaron McLain following testimony from mental health evaluators and suggestions made by Debbie Reynolds, a juvenile community corrections officer.

McLain was brought to the court from the Mountain View Youth Development Center at Charleston where he has been housed since his apprehension shortly after the fire. He arrived under guard and in shackles. A sheriff's deputy relieved him of his shackles and handcuffs shortly after he was inside the courtroom.

A state witness testified that McLain has "severe mental health issues," and that he had heard voices in his head the day before the fairground fire.

McLain's mother and father sat by his side during his court session, and during difficult testimony attempted to comfort their son. His mother's eyes were constantly brimming with tears and from time to time she would reach for her son's hands.

During this segment, McLain's attorney, Randy Day, requested a suspended sentence for his client with the condition he participate in a residential treatment facility.

Testimony during James McLeod's appearance, the second defendant in this arson case, was fairly brief.

Nonetheless, it carried the same statements from Almy to the judge as previously related during McLain's court session stressing the evidence that could be brought before the court should McLeod's case go to trial. McLeod's father sat next to his son during Thursday's court session.

According to fire investigators a large amount of farm machinery, snow blowers, balers, antique threshing machines and a motor home were destroyed in the blaze.

Toward the conclusion of the court proceedings District Attorney Almy also informed Judge Stitham that "all the victims are here in the courtroom today -- they are upset they have lost a lot money."

It's been estimated that $100,000 in damage was sustained when a 40 by 60 foot open pole barn used for storage purposes was completely destroyed by the fire.

One of the persons who sustained a loss due to the fire is William A. Wilkins, who has been buying and restoring antique farm equipment for 30 years. He is requesting $8,500 restitution for his expenses, which does not include the labor or money used to restore the antique farm equipment.

According to court records victims of the fire are: the Piscataquis Valley Fair Association, the town of Dover-Foxcroft, Wayne W. Redmond, Gary L. Sudsbury, Kenneth W. Richardson, William A. Wilkins, Jr. and Philip W. Andrews. The building was owned by the Piscataquis County Fair Association.

Until the June 21 sentencing, which is scheduled to be held in the same courtroom at 1 p.m., McLeod continues to be under house arrest at the home of his father and grandmother in Brownville and McLain remains detained at the Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston.

Following the close of the court session Almy said he had no idea what his sentence recommendation would be until he reviews the results of the forensic evaluation. He said he also has to consider what the fire victims have to say.
"This content originally appeared as a copyrighted article in the Moosehead Messenger and is used here with permission."

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