Greenwich Arson Suspect Ordered Held Without Bail |
EVAN LAWRENCE Special for The Post-Star
GREENWICH — Greenwich Village Judge Rachel Clothier on Tuesday declined to set bail for John M. Fox, charged with setting the fire that destroyed the downtown Wilmarth Building on Feb. 6.
Fox, 48, of Rough and Ready, Calif., is charged with second-degree arson, second-degree criminal mischief and first-degree reckless endangerment in the blaze, which displaced seven residents and four businesses.
Public defender Dustin Bruhns, representing Fox, said his client had no criminal history in New York State. Fox has ties to the area and his family who may be willing to post bail for him, Bruhns said.
However, Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said he had just received records from California and Oregon showing Fox had what Jordan called “a lengthy criminal record” in those states, including drug charges and at least one felony conviction. Jordan said he wasn’t sure Fox even considered himself a US citizen, noting that he had listed the “United Arab Republic” as his country of residence on some papers.
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Fox also could face a second-degree assault charge stemming from an incident at the Washington County Jail, where he has been held since Sunday, Jordan said. Bruhns said Fox had been hospitalized in Westchester County to date and was “uncommunicative and inconsistent” due to medication when he arrived at the jail. Bruhns maintained “there was no intent” behind the attack.
During his hearing, Fox seemed unclear about what was going on, repeatedly asking what happened to the lawyer during his early morning arraignment on February 7 before Kingsbury Town Judge Anthony White. Michael Mercury, chief of the county public defender’s office, represented Fox at the arraignment. Bruhns told Fox that Mercury was his boss.
Clothier seemed concerned about Fox’s mental state. She wanted to order a hearing to determine if Fox was fit to stand trial.
“He must be able to help in his defence,” she said.
Bruhns insisted that Fox was capable.
“He knows I’m his defense attorney and he knows you’re the judge,” Bruhns said.
Other mental health issues could be assessed separately, he said.
Jordan told Clothier there would be other opportunities to order a jurisdictional hearing and said he was seeking a grand jury investigation.
Clothier based his decision not to post bail on Fox’s flight risk, his criminal history in California and Oregon, and the charges against him in New York state. She set Fox’s next court date for March 22.
According to court documents, Renee D’Aiuto, who had an apartment on the second floor of the Wilmarth Building, picked up Fox, her cousin, from Troy on February 5. He stayed with D’Aiuto’s sister but she kicked him and Fox “had nowhere to go,” D’Aiuto wrote.
After bringing Fox to her apartment, D’Aiuto called her boyfriend, Gianni Delnevo, to stay with her. Delnevo said Fox’s ex-girlfriend tipped him off that Fox had threatened to kill her.
Fox, who D’Aiuto described as “angry and violent”, burned candles in the room D’Aiuto gave him and inhaled nitrous oxide until the fire broke out at noon the next day. A witness at 111 Main St., across the street, described hearing broken glass and seeing Fox jump from a second-story window just before smoke began to billow. A Van Ness Avenue resident reported finding a man matching Fox’s description sitting in his van. Fox was then tracked by a New York State Police K-9 team and arrested just outside the village.
The fire not only destroyed the Wilmarth Building, but also damaged the power and telecommunications lines that ran past it, causing blackouts and interruptions. A Verizon truck was parked outside the remains of the building Tuesday morning, carrying out repairs.
Local photographer and historian Clifford Oliver Mealy lost his studio in the fire, including equipment, a collection of old cameras and decades of files. A GoFundMe page created for Mealy had raised $35,217 by Tuesday afternoon. Another GoFundMe appeal for residents of the building had raised $2,935.
The fire also destroyed the Greenwich office of PennyDot Realty, the office of Judith Klingebiel CPA, an office for building owner Marta Ward, and a hair salon.
Greenwich Hardware Antiques, owned by Wayne and Maureen Edsforth, was the next building to the south. Firefighters saved the building but not without damage. On Tuesday, a yellow “no occupancy” sign was taped to the front door and a pair of antique, sooty snowshoes hung from a beam inside.
“My building sustained heavy water and smoke damage as well as damage to the walls adjacent to the burned building and to the roof and ceiling of the second floor,” the Edsforths wrote in a Facebook post on Feb. 8. “Needless to say I won ‘I won’t be opening anytime soon while I deal with the insurance company and repairs.