Arson trial continues
The arson trail of a Summit Hill man, charged with setting 16 brush fires in 2008, continued Wednesday with an investigator to the state Bureau of Forestry the chief witness for the day. The trial was to continue this morning and is expected to continue at least into Friday.
Frank Duane Swartz, 45, has been charged with 60 felony counts by state police who said he is responsible for setting the fires. He is facing counts of arson-danger of death or bodily injury; arson-endangering property-reckless endangerment of inhabited buildings; possession of explosive/incendiary materials; risking a catastrophe; and maliciously setting/causing fire to a forest. If convicted of the charges he facing a minimum prison term of about 20 years.
Assistant District Attorney James Lavelle called Robert McJilton, who has been a wildfire investigator for the state for the past 24 years, as his first witness. He testified for almost the entire day concerning his probe of the 16 fires.
He did not begin testifying until about 10:20 a.m., an hour and 20 minutes past the scheduled start of the trial of 9 a.m. President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II apologized to the jury for the long delay in starting the proceeding saying he had to deal with several legal matters incident to the case.
McJilton presented the results of his probe through a series of charts and numerous photographs of the various fire scenes.
He testified to where the fires started and how he determined the blazes were not accidental and caused by an act of natural, but were deliberately set. His testimony also included how much acerage was damaged by each fire.
The fires occurred over the period of March 17 to April 18, 2008.
McJilton also testified that he found at the scene of some of the fires an incendiary device made up of a match pack with a cigarette attached to hit by a rubber band. He also said he found some of those devices near the scene of some of the fires. He said the incendiary devices were not found at all the points of origin of every fire. A total of 31 devices were found during the course of the investigation.
Lavelle told the panel in his opening statement on Monday state police and forestry investigators found a fingerprint and DNA at the scene of one of the fires that led to Swartz.
McJilton said during the course of the investigation several persons of interest were identified. He named each, including some firefighters, but said all were eliminated as suspects after each submitted to fingerprint analysis.
Swartz pleaded guilty to 16 counts in connection with the case in January 2010. Prior to sentencing he filed a petition to withdraw his plea, which was granted by Nanovic.
Defense Attorney Michael Gough told the jury in his opening that Swartz will explain how his DNA and fingerprint was found at the scene of one of the fires. He also said a confession Swartz made to Trooper David Klitsch in November 2008 that he set fires, was made under great duress due to family pressures.
Still to be called by Lavelle is Klitsch, the prosecutor in the case, along with two experts, one for fingerprints and the second for DNA analysis.