Thursday, September 1, 2005

BALTIMORE — Federal prosecutors yesterday attacked arson suspect Patrick S. Walsh’s alibi that he was playing Internet games when a Charles County subdivision was set on fire in December, saying there is no concrete proof that he was at his Fort Washington home at the time of the fires.

In closing arguments of Mr. Walsh’s trial for arson and conspiracy, prosecutors said records from his computer and the operator of the game do not prove that it was Mr. Walsh who was using the computer in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 6.

They suggested that one of Mr. Walsh’s friends might have been playing while Mr. Walsh was off helping set the Hunters Brooke development on fire.

“This is a nonalibi. It is a classic red herring,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger said.

But Mr. Walsh’s attorney said that during three weeks of testimony, prosecutors had yet to present anything substantial that directly tied Mr. Walsh to the fires, which burned more than two dozen homes and caused $10 million in damage.

“The government case just fell apart” during the trial, defense attorney William B. Purpura told jurors in his closing arguments.

The jury of seven men and five women began deliberations yesterday.

Mr. Walsh is the first of five men accused of setting the fires to go to trial.

Two have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced this fall; the other two are scheduled to go on trial early next year.

Prosecutors have depicted Mr. Walsh as a young man fascinated with fire and explosives who crafted bombs out of household objects and set smaller fires that were reputedly precursors to the Hunters Brooke arsons.

Mr. Walsh is accused of masterminding the massive blaze to gain attention for the Waldorf-based gang he created and led.

“He wanted to run things in Waldorf,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Atkins said. “He wanted to be feared.”

Most of the houses at Hunters Brooke, located in Indian Head, were under construction and unoccupied on Dec. 6.

No one was hurt, but 10 homes were destroyed and 16 severely damaged in what was Maryland’s worst case of residential arson.

Several others were doused with flammable liquid but not set ablaze.

Mr. Walsh is charged with conspiracy and multiple counts of arson, one for each house set on fire.

He could face five to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Much of the prosecution’s case rests on the testimony of Jeremy Daniel Parady, who has admitted he was the driver that night. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy in return for leniency at his sentencing this fall.

Parady said on the stand that Mr. Walsh helped plan the fires, recruited members and was at the scene that night.

But his credibility appeared shaky after admitting he lied numerous times, including to investigators and during an earlier court hearing. He insisted that he did not lie during Mr. Walsh’s trial.

Mr. Purpura accused Parady of lying again when he implicated Mr. Walsh.

He read several times a statement from an April court hearing where Parady said, “It’s hard to keep track of all the lies I’ve told.”

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