The attorney for the accused architect of one of the largest residential arsons in state history said authorities do not have forensic evidence to connect the fires to his client, Patrick Walsh, whose trial begins in Baltimore today.
Moved out of the U.S. District courthouse in Greenbelt because of pretrial media coverage in the Washington area, the court case against Walsh, 20, is expected to last up to three weeks. Individual questioning of potential jurors should start this morning, followed by opening statements as soon as tomorrow, lawyers in the case said.
The Dec. 6 fires destroyed or damaged 35 houses in Charles County, leaving families homeless, an upscale subdivision community shaken over fears of racism and a financial loss as high as $10 million.
As many as 63 witnesses may be called to the stand for the prosecution, according to court documents filed yesterday.
But defense attorney William B. Purpura Jr. said in an interview yesterday that federal prosecutors have been unable to link his client to the string of arsons using fingerprint evidence, DNA analysis or records from cellular phone towers.
"We hope to show that Patrick Walsh was at home and on the Internet at the time of the fires," Purpura said. Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case before the trial begins.
Two of the five men charged in the fires, Aaron Speed and Jeremy D. Parady, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson but have not been sentenced. Both were listed in court papers as possible witnesses for the prosecution.
In June, the presiding judge in the case unsealed a statement made to authorities by another defendant, Roy "Brian" McCann. McCann was also included on the prosecutors' witness list.
"A couple of months ago at Denny's," McCann wrote in the December statement to federal investigators, "Patrick Walsh stated that he was going to go off and just start blowing stuff up."
McCann's statement describes a meeting at a Denny's restaurant in Southern Maryland in which Walsh - who police say was the ringleader - started talking about his plans. McCann also described how others charged with the crimes prepared to set the blazes at the Hunters Brooke development and how Walsh was a member of a gang called the Unseen Cavaliers.
"They are also firebugs," McCann wrote.
The statements were given to federal agents between 10 and 14 days after the blaze in the development that did catastrophic damage to houses under construction, many of them being built for black homeowners.
The defendants are white, and prosecutors have raised racism as one of the possible motives. Speed also said in his guilty plea that he was envious of the affluent homeowners and angry that the security company for which he worked at the site refused him time off when his baby son died.
The presiding judge said last month that he likely will allow prosecutors to present evidence of previous "bad acts" by Walsh, including earlier fires and a purported plot to blow up a car.
U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus, who will also preside over the trial in Baltimore, denied a motion by Purpura to exclude seven allegations of actions that prosecutors say laid the groundwork for the fires. They include Anarchist's Cookbook, found in Walsh's possession, and attempts by Walsh to manufacture bombs in the fall of 2004 and other fires alleged to have been set by Walsh and others.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.