- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Federal authorities yesterday arrested the fifth and sixth suspectsin a massive arson case in Charles County, Md., this month, and law-enforcement sources said other arrests — stemming from interviews with as many as 16 “acquaintances” — are likely.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Roy McCann, 22, of Waldorf, Md., and Michael Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington were arrested yesterday and will be brought before a magistrate in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt today.

Authorities have yet to reveal a motive in the Dec. 6 arson that destroyed or damaged 26 unoccupied houses at the upscale Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head.

Three suspects who had been arrested Saturday were arraigned yesterday at the federal court.

Federal Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day yesterday set detention hearings on Thursday for Michael McIntosh Everhart of Waldorf, Patrick Stephen Walsh of Fort Washington and Jeremy Daniel Parady of Accokeek. The 20-year-olds were ordered to be held without bail until their next court appearances.

They join Aaron Lee Speed, 21, of Waldorf, who was arrested last week and is scheduled for a detention hearing today. Mr. Speed, a security guard who worked for the company hired to protect the construction site, has admitted knowing of a plot to set fire to the houses, which caused $10 million in damage, according to court documents.

Mr. Speed also said he was at the site while the fires were being set with a friend named “J.D. Purdy,” whom investigators later identified as Mr. Parady.

The court documents do not say how the defendants knew each other, referring to them only as “acquaintances.”

A law-enforcement source told the Associated Press that several of the suspects were interested in street racing and may have been members of an informal street racing club.

According to an affidavit supporting a criminal complaint against the three men arrested Saturday, Mr. Parady has confessed his role in the arson, telling investigators that two cars and several other persons participated in setting the fires.

Mr. Parady said he met Mr. Speed, Mr. Everhart and Mr. Walsh, along with other acquaintances who are not named in the affidavit, in the parking lot of a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant in Waldorf. The men loaded gas cans, kerosene drums and a drum containing an unknown, bitter-smelling liquid into the trunk of Mr. Walsh’s car, Mr. Parady said. They carried matches, road flares and butane torches to ignite the liquids

Mr. Parady’s job was to serve as the “wheels,” driving the men from house to house, he said.

“They kicked in doors, poured a pool of accelerant inside the residence and poured a trail of accelerant from the pool to the door, where the accelerant was ignited,” the affidavit says.

Each time the men returned to the vehicle, Mr. Parady drove a few houses forward and they repeated the process, court documents show.

Mr. Parady had been turned down for a job with Lennar Corp., which was building the houses. He was a “riding member” with the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, meaning he could ride with fire crews but not engage in firefighting. A unit from the Accokeek fire department responded to the blaze.

According to the affidavit, Mr. Everhart said he participated in planning the fires and was at the scene, but he did not know what was going to happen and left before the fires were lit.

Mr. Walsh denied involvement. Asked by investigators during questioning late Saturday and early Sunday what would happen if an accelerant-sniffing dog detected traces of ignitable liquid in his car, Mr. Walsh replied, “Then I guess you got me.”

Hours later, a dog detected the presence of accelerants in two cars owned by Mr. Walsh, according to the affidavit.

The three men appeared separately in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt yesterday in casual clothes and were represented by newly appointed public defenders. They gave short answers to the judge’s questions.

Their relatives watched the proceedings but declined to comment. Several left the courtroom in tears after Mr. Parady’s appearance.

If convicted of arson, the men face a minimum prison sentence of five years each. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Initially, there was speculation the fires were set by environmental extremists because some environmental groups had complained that the houses threatened a nearby bog. However, no evidence has been found to support the theory, police said.

Attention then turned to whether the arsons could have been a hate crime. Although many of the buyers of the $500,000 homes were black, Charles County is largely rural and mostly white. All the suspects are white.

When asked who might have set the fires, Mr. Speed said, “Someone who works at the site and recently experienced a great loss.”

Mr. Speed left the security company in August because he thought its officials were unsympathetic when his infant son died in April, the criminal complaint states. He returned to the company in October.

The fires have been called the largest residential arson case in the history of Maryland.

• This article is based in part on wires service reports.

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