Not-guilty pleas made for 5 men in $10 million arson

GREENBELT - Attorneys for five of the six suspects in the arson that caused $10 million in damage to a Charles County development entered pleas of not guilty for their clients in federal district court here yesterday, and a judge scheduled separate trials for them later this year.

The suspects - all men in their early 20s who live in the Waldorf area - face federal arson charges in the fires set early Dec. 6 that damaged or destroyed 26 homes under construction in Hunters Brooke, a new-home development in Indian Head.

It is unclear whether more suspects will be charged. The indictments against the men stated that they destroyed the homes together "with other persons known and unknown," but federal authorities declined to comment on the possibility of more arrests.

The three suspects who remain in jail - Patrick S. Walsh, 20; Aaron L. Speed, 21; and Jeremy D. Parady, 20 - were escorted into a courtroom yesterday by U.S. marshals for their arraignments. Authorities say Walsh was the ringleader of a car club and that he led the planning of the fires to gain notoriety for the group.

Other suspects have been released to home detention. Michael M. Everhart, 20, who came to court yesterday to enter his plea, has been on home detention since late last month.

Another suspect, Michael E. "White Mike" Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington, was arrested but is the only identified suspect who had not been indicted as of yesterday. Gilbert was released on home detention Monday.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Charles B. Day also allowed Roy T. "Brian" McCann Jr., 22, to be released on home detention. His attorney, Joshua R. Treem, and his mother, Barbara Harrison, successfully argued for his release over the objection of Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Sanger.

During the arson investigation, Sanger said that Harrison gave statements to authorities claiming she believed her son was home at the time of the fires, but he later admitted that he was at the development - which "indicates she's not aware" of her son's activities, she said.

But Day ruled in McCann's favor after receiving assurances from Harrison that she would monitor him closely. Harrison's landlord won't allow McCann to live at her home, so he will stay at his girlfriend's home, and his mother will move in with them.

"All I can say is, we're very happy," Harrison said after the hearing. McCann, after his release to his mother, declined to comment.

Walsh's trial begins May 31 and is expected to last two weeks. The trials for the other indicted defendants will follow in about two-week intervals through the end of August, according to a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.