Cote Choneska, left, and Joseph “JJ” Johnson Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

A Superior Court judge found Monday that there was probable cause to charge a Veazie man with murder and arson in the 2019 death of a Bangor resident.

Cote Choneska, 41, of Veazie and Joseph “J.J.” Johnson, 31, of Old Town were indicted last year by the Penobscot County grand jury in the beating death of Berton Conley, 59, and in a fire set at his Essex Street house.

Both have pleaded not guilty. They are scheduled to be tried together in January.

Choneska’s attorney, William Ashe of Ellsworth, argued that the Maine Attorney General’s office, which is prosecuting the case, had shown that Choneska may have been with Johnson when Conley died but had no evidence to tie him directly to the slaying or fire.

The police affidavit alleged that the two men went to Conley’s home to buy drugs on Nov. 1, 2019. Johnson allegedly beat Conley to death with his fists before setting the fire in an attempt to cover up the crime.

Choneska was charged as an accomplice, according to Ashe.

Superior Court Justice William Anderson on Monday found that cell phone records showing the two men were together in the hours before Conley was killed and a witness who saw them together after the fire was discovered constitutes probable cause to charge Choneska.

Police were called to 258 Essex St. at about 7:50 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2019. Firefighters located a fire in the kitchen and found Conley unconscious inside the smoke-filled house.

He was brought to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead. The medical examiner determined the manner of death was a homicide.

Anderson on Monday also refused to set bail for Choneska. He and Johnson have been held without bail since their arrests in December 2019. Johnson has been held at the Penobscot County Jail while Choneska has been boarded at different facilities around the state.

If convicted, Johnson and Choneska face between 25 years and life in prison on the murder charge and up to 30 years in prison on the arson charge.