Saturday, December 8, 2012

Financially Strapped Homeowner Accused Of Torching Home In Foreclosure Scores Acquittal

In York, South Carolina, The Herald reports:

  • Carrying a wash basin of court and bank documents, a Rock Hill woman accused of setting her family home on fire told prosecutors it would’ve been “stupid” for her to start the blaze that incinerated the top half of a house she paid thousands of dollars to remodel.

    A judge agreed.

    After a two-day bench trial in a York County courtroom, Eighth Circuit Court Judge Frank R. Addy on Tuesday ruled that Charlotte Ann Smith, 63, was not guilty of burning $125,000 worth of a house she owned at 4986 Mount Gallant Road.
  • Prosecutors argued Smith set the fire two years after the primary mortgage-holder, Bank of America, placed the house in foreclosure and opted to give the house to a receiver, possibly limiting Smith’s access to the property and rental money.

    Rebecca McNerney, one of two 16th Circuit assistant solicitors prosecuting the case, said Smith burned the house a week before she was scheduled to appear in court to hear motions for the receivership.

    “We find that to be a strange coincidence,” said Christopher Epting, the other assistant solicitor who prosecuted Smith.

    York County Sheriff’s Detective Johnny Martin said Smith admitted to buying several gallons of gasoline that she put in a bathtub in the house to burn tree limbs before a planned house inspection.

    Fire officials on Monday testified that they evacuated the house when burning embers collapsed on them. After the flames were doused, investigators found buckets of gasoline “strategically” placed throughout the house, along with bags of sticks, McNerney said.

    In other buckets, they found gasoline-soaked bank and court documents addressed to Smith from both her property lenders, Bank of America and Guardian Fidelity, she said. They found similar documents at the house where Smith lived, along with a matchbook missing some of its matches.

    On the stand, Smith said she spent more than $16,000 to remodel her parents’ home with plans to move into the apartment herself. “I never thought my home would burn,” she said.

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