A Butler man is accused of starting a fire in his family’s rental house last month on Standard Avenue, though the one witness of the alleged crime has given police conflicting statements.
District Judge William Fullerton Monday held John P. Conley, 28, for trial on five counts of felony arson. He also was held for trial on charges of causing a catastrophe, criminal mischief and other charges.
Firefighters responded to a fire at 147 Standard Ave. on the night of Dec. 6. The fire started in an upstairs bedroom around 7:45 p.m. The six occupants of the house all got out safely.
The people who were living there included Conley, his girlfriend Lois Daniels, their two young children and other relatives.
Conley was arrested Dec. 12 and charged by city police with aggravated assault and attempted murder in an unrelated case. He was arraigned on arson charges Dec. 22 and held without bail.
Maura Palumbi, Conley’s court appointed attorney, on Monday entered a plea of not guilty for her client.
In an interview before the hearing, Conley said he did not start the fire.
“I love my children more than anything, why would I burn the house down?” he said.
Trooper David Jungling, the state police fire marshal who investigated the fire, testified in court Monday he believes the fire was intentionally set.
After examining the room, he ruled out a wall outlet as the source of the fire and did not find any other potential source in the room, he said.
He said he spoke to Lois Daniels the night of the fire, who said she first saw the flames from outside the house and did not know how it had started.
However, he also conducted a recorded interview with her on Dec. 12 in Butler County Prison, where she is being held after getting arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia.
In that interview, she gave a different account of what happened that night, saying she was too afraid of Conley to initially tell what she had seen.
She alleged that she and Conley were having an argument over money and that he had assaulted her several times, including punching her and slamming her chest against the corner of a dresser.
At one point she said she briefly lost consciousness, but when she came to she heard the sound of a lighter clicking near a Christmas tree in the room and when she looked up she allegedly saw Conley light a baby mattress that was covered in plastic on fire.
“She thought that he was just trying to scare her and that he wouldn’t burn down his family’s house, that he would put the fire out, but he didn’t put it out,” Jungling said.
Jungling said that he observed bruises on her body and correctional officers had also noticed the bruises after her arrest.
Daniels, called to the stand Monday, said she did not know how the fire started and claimed to have no memory of giving a statement to Jungling.
She said she was still under the influence of crack cocaine and other drugs Dec. 12.
“I was under the influence of a lot of things, to be honest,” she said.
In the criminal complaint filed by Butler Police, police allege she also told Jungling that Conley had admitted to lighting the tree.
There was also a report made by correctional officers in the prison in which she said Conley had allegedly beaten her for “two weeks straight.”