MACHIAS, Maine — A Washington County Superior Court jury found a man not guilty of arson Thursday in connection with fires that were set in trash cans and a Dumpster at an Irving gas station and convenience store in Baileyville.
The jury of nine women and three men deliberated about two hours before returning the verdict in favor of Aaron Neddeau, 20, of Baileyville.
Neddeau, who was charged in connection with the June 7, 2012, incident, did not testify. However, a co-defendant who earlier pleaded guilty to a lesser offense testified in Neddeau’s defense and took responsibility for the fires.
Ryan Laking, 20, of Waite, pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal mischief in October 2012 and was sentenced to three years in prison with all but 80 days suspended. Laking, in custody for allegedly violating his parole, testified on behalf of Neddeau and claimed responsibility.
Several people testified for the prosecution, including the store manager, a Baileyville police officer and a fire official.
Two plastic trash cans outside and a dumpster were damaged in the fires. However, the incident potentially could have been much worse, according to authorities. One trash can that was set ablaze was located between two gas pumps, and another was near tanks of propane for sale.
Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh showed jurors footage of security cameras that recorded some scenes of the incident. In one scene, Neddeau can be seen placing a piece of plastic atop one of the burning trash cans.
“You saw what he did,” Cavanaugh reminded the jury in rebutting the closing argument of defense attorney Jeff Davidson.
Davidson argued that the video footage showed Neddeau pouring beer on the flames and attempting to cover one fiery trash can with a piece of plastic in an effort to extinguish the fire.
Davidson maintained that Neddeau did not start a fire, cause it, or help maintain it — essential elements in proving guilt in an arson case. In addition, his client lacked criminal intent to damage or destroy property, Davidson told the jury in his closing argument. His client was “just being stupid and drunk,” he said.
Justice E. Allen Hunter presided over the two-day trial.