Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Convicts who torched "Mary's House" finally put away

Two arsonists from Clinton--whose torching spree culminated in the destruction of Sterling's most famous historical site--have been found guilty of setting fires from Sterling to Florida, Mass. and are headed to the big house for 15 years:
WORCESTER — Two Clinton men were sentenced to state prison yesterday for a 2007 arson spree from Central Massachusetts to the western end of the state that the judge called “random, reckless and unnerved acts of evil.”

Saying they acted with a “sense of impunity” and a total disregard for the consequences of their actions, Judge John S. McCann sentenced John Rousseau [at right] and Michael P. Dreslinski [far right] to 14-1/2 years to 15 years and a day in state prison with 30 years of probation that will begin immediately and keep the two longtime friends, both 30 years old, under the court’s supervision until they reach age 60....

The first of the two local fires destroyed the 18th century homestead of Mary Elizabeth Sawyer, the so-called “Mary Had a Little Lamb House,” at 108 Maple St., Sterling, which was on the National Register of Historic Places.
The fire two summers ago was a really big deal in our neighborhood. The Sawyer House is less than a mile from our home, and the blaze shook up some neighbors who have been living on the hill for decades. Apparently there had been a series of barn fires in the area in the late 1970s, including one barn in our neighborhood that was torched. At least one of our elderly neighbors was fearful that the same thing was happening again.

I guess in some ways the same thing was happening, but at least this burning spree was spread out over the whole state, and not centered in one terrified community.

A real shame in all of this is that one wonders if the destruction could have been prevented. I guess it's typical whenever a serial criminal is finally put away to wonder if law enforcement could have done more. Typical or not, I'll ask the question anyway. Why couldn't these two have been put away before it got to this?

At sentencing yesterday, Judge McCann noted that Rousseau and Dreslinski had a long criminal history, going back to their teen years:
Noting that both defendants had adult criminal records dating back to 1996 that included breaking and entering convictions and arson-related crimes, Judge McCann said neither had shown “a propensity for rehabilitation.”

The judge said in a sentencing memorandum, “Their swath of destruction has grown wider each year and brought us to the present.”

He called the setting of the fires two years ago “random, reckless and unnerved acts of evil evolving over a one-month period of time.” He said the crimes jeopardized the lives of the property owners, their neighbors, firefighters and, in the case of the Florida fire, railroad workers whose communication system was temporarily shut down.
The record is full of missed opportunities. In 2003, Rousseau admitted to police that he had set a series of fires around Clinton that fall. At his trial, the confessions were thrown out and the charges were eventually dropped. Looking back at some of the stories from the trial, the similarities between the 2007 fires and the 2003 fires is stark:
Rousseau, 26, is accused of setting four fires in abandoned buildings as well as in a Dumpster behind High Street. There were no injuries in any of the fires. Rousseau is also charged with impersonating a police officer and four counts of breaking and entering in the night to commit a felony after he allegedly hacked into police radio frequencies and pretended to be an officer. He also allegedly hacked into the CSX railroad frequency and reported false bomb threats and explosions on the tracks in Clinton. He is currently living at his Wilson Street home monitored by an electronic bracelet.

The case was investigated for months by local and state police as well as the state fire marshal's office before the charges were made in November 2003.
Fires in abandoned buildings? Check. Hacking into railroad radio frequencies? Check. Corroborating with Dreslinski? Check. Once the charges in the 2003 fires were finally dropped, the Times and Courier wrapped up the story with a timeline of Rousseau's and Dresinski's exploits, starting with the vandalization of a Bolton school with a swastika.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end. After briefly flirting with a run for Clinton selectman, Rousseau teamed up with Dreslinski to set fire to buildings in Florida and Greenfield in late July, 2007. Even though the state police had fitted Dreslinski's truck with a GPS and knew he and Rousseau had been in the July fires, they did not arrest the pair until two weeks later, after they had torched the Sawyer house and a barn in Holden. It's too bad that the state couldn't have pulled together the evidence on the July fires in time to stop them from burning again.

For that matter, it's a shame that the authorities couldn't have been just a little more careful when this happened six years ago. I understand that the job of police and prosecutors is tough--certainly a lot tougher than my job. For the sake of our liberties, they have to be nearly perfect when it comes to locking someone up. Perfections is too much to ask of anyone, but a little perfection here would have gone a long way.

At least now there won't be a next time...until 2024 anyway.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment


No Drumlins Copyright © 2009 Premium Blogger Dashboard Designed by SAER