Summit Hill man withdraws guilty pleas in arson cases
A Summit Hill man was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in several pending arson cases on Thursday.
Frank Duane Swartz, 43, appeared before President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II for a hearing on his petition to withdraw his plea. After a hearing Nanovic granted the petition.
In January Swartz pleaded guilty before Nanovic to 16 criminal counts stemming from a series of brush fires set in the county between March and April 2008.
At the time he pleaded to one count of arson, two of risking a catastrophe and 13 of penalty for causing fire on or within woodlots, forests or firelands.
Nanovic accepted the plea but deferred sentencing. The plea agreement with the district attorney's office called for a state prison sentence of four to eight years. Swartz admitted in the plea proceeding to setting 16 fires in Lower Towamensing and Franklin townships as well as parts of Parryville. Swartz was a one-time firefigthter.
State police Trooper David Klitsch, a deputy fire marshall, said in his arrest complaint that he was able to trace the fires to Swartz through DNA evidence found on a book of matches. Swartz's DNA was on file from a previous arrest on sexual-related charges dating back more than two decades.
Yesterday Swartz told Nanovic he was innocent of all the charges and wanted to tell his side to a jury. Swartz also asked to a new attorney to represent him in the case.
Nanovic granted both requests.
Nanovic told Swartz prior to granting his petition that he face up to 20 years or more in jail if convicted and would face all the charges that were originally filed against him. Swartz is facing a total of 60 criminal counts including 18 arson, 12 possession of explosive/incindary devices and 15 risking a catastrophe as well and other related charges.
Nanovic said the case would be tried during the September term of court. He appoint Atty. Michael Gough to represent Swartz in the matter.