A Carbon County jury panel, after deliberating for almost 10 hours over two days, convicted a Summit Hill man in 60 of 66 counts filed against him in connection with setting 16 brush fires in the spring of 2008 in the lower end of the county.
Frank Duane Swartz, 45, faces a substantial jail term when sentenced following his conviction of the felony counts. The verdict concluded a trial that began Monday afternoon, Dec. 5, and ended about 3 p.m. yesterday with the announcement of the verdict. The jury panel of 11 women and one man began deliberations about 6 p.m. Monday and were sent home by President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II about 11:15 p.m. They resumed their deliberations at 10 a.m. yesterday.
State police charged that Swartz set 16 fires in Lower Towamensing and Franklin townships and Parryville during the period of March 17 to April 18, 2008. No one was injured in the fires and no buildings were damaged.
One fire, however, burned close to a nursing home, which forced the evacuation of the elderly residents.
Trooper David Klitsch, deputy fire marshal from the Hazleton barracks and chief prosecutor in the case, testified that Swartz confessed to setting the fires during a Nov. 24, 2008, interview held at the police station in Summit Hill.
Authorities also said they found Swartz's DNA at one fire scene and his fingerprint on a pack of matches at another scene. Testimony revealed the fires were started by the use of an incendiary device, which consisted of a pack of matches with a lit cigarette laying across the matches and a rubber band holding it in place.
Swartz testified that during the interview he put down the words Klitsch told him to put down. He said he told Klitsch what he thought he wanted to hear because he was given a promise that he would not be charged with the crimes until after the holidays.
Prior to the start of the interview Swartz said he denied any knowledge of the fires to Klitsch.
Swartz also testified he grew up in the area of the fires and had made frequent trips to his parents' home in Lower Towamensing Township during the time frame of the fires. He said he was a smoker and had smoked while he was on his parents' property and along roads in the area when he was out looking for cans to pick up for recycling.
Assistant District Attorney James Lavelle called 15 witnesses. In addition to Klitsch, testifying for the commonwealth, were Bureau of Forestry investigators, other state troopers who specialized in fingerprint and DNA analysis, firefighters who responded to the numerous fires and property owners of the land damaged by the fires.
Defense attorney Michael Gough called three members of Swartz' family.
Most of the fires were on Blue Ridge Country Club property.
Swartz was convicted of counts of arson-endangering persons, arson-endangering property, possession of incendiary materials or devices, risking a catastrophe, and maliciously setting or causing fires.
Swartz pleaded guilty to 16 counts in connection with the fires in January 2010 but later withdrew his plea stating he was innocent. In a plea bargain Swartz was to be sentenced to serve four to eight years in a state prison.
With the conviction of 60 counts, he faces a considerably longer state prison term.