As Baye Trial Ends With Guilty Plea, Residents Express Frustration, Relief

Alleged Northampton, Massachusetts arsonist Anthony Baye unexpectedly pled guilty today to forty-eight criminal counts. The plea abruptly ends a trial over three years in the making. As groups of charges were read in Hampden Superior Court, Anthony Baye responded simply.

“How do you now plead, sir, to counts 3, 9, 10, and 13? Guilty or not guilty?”

Baye’s plea came on what would have been the second day of his trial for fifteen fires set in late 2009. But in a deal reached by the prosecution and the defense, Baye pled guilty to all charges against him, including indictments for fires in 2007 and early 2009, that were not part of the current trial. Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan says his office demanded the plea be on all of the indictments. Murder charges were reduced to manslaughter in the deal. Baye will likely go to jail for 19 to 20 years and get fifteen years’ probation for arson. His motives for changing his plea in the middle of a trial comprised of mostly circumstantial evidence is unclear. But DA Sullivan says the strength of the state’s case was a factor.

“We built a great case. We had great investigators, we had a circumstantial evidence case, but a lot of very substantive evidence with citizens stepping forward, and the defense obviously saw that strong case.”

The defense declined comment until Wednesday, when Baye is to be sentenced. Baye was first arrested in January 2010 after allegedly confessing to setting the fires. But that confession was thrown out by the state Supreme Judicial Court last May. That court determined police used problematic interrogation tactics. Which prompted the DA to drop all charges against Baye last summer, before a grand jury re-indicted him on murder and arson several days later. The lengthy court process begs the question: why did Baye choose now, over three years after his arrest, to formally confess to the crimes?

Meanwhile, residents of the ward three neighborhood where the fires were set and where Baye himself lived say his plea provides a sense of closure they weren’t sure they would get. Many residents say between 2007 and 2009 they invested in things like extra fire ladders and completely cleared around their houses, as many of the fires were set on porches. They say the neighborhood’s sense of vulnerability faded once Baye was arrested in January of 2010, but it hadn’t disappeared. Ward three City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels says Baye’s plea helps with that.

“Of course the victims and their families are probably never going to fully recover. But the community I believe, breathed a sigh of relief…this has been the final piece to what has been the most visible community wound.”

Freeman-Daniels says the biggest concern now is that Baye deal with his apparent interest in setting fires — so he thinks a twenty-year sentence is appropriate. Area resident Sarah Halgin agrees. She says the plea is good for everyone involved, including Baye.

“He’s part of our community as well. He grew up in ward three. He’s part of Ward three. So he also needs closure and needs help. So I’m glad he’s admitting some guilt and moving on.”

Clayton Pepi manages a Veterans housing complex a few blocks over on Cherry Street. He says he’s relieved the trial is over and that Baye will serve time. But Pepi says twenty years for manslaughter doesn’t make up for two lives lost — especially when one — Paul Yeskie Senior — was a Veteran.

“Speaking as a vet, and you know I’ve got a lot of respect for WWII and anyone that’s been in actual combat. And they probably should have gave him life. I wouldn’t have been displeased.”

Baye will be sentenced on Wednesday in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton.