PITTSFIELD -- If the three city men accused of a February crime spree that included setting fires and crashing stolen cars go to trial next month as scheduled, their cases will be tried separately and it could take close to a month to get through all of them.
Because Jason Welsh, Steven Gratton and James Ledbetter have all given statements to the police in the Feb. 24 spree that allegedly involved the theft of four vehicles, multiple break-ins of others and four arson fires, the defendants can't be tried together, according to the prosecutor. If tried separately, the cases are expected to take four to five days each, he said, due to the "sheer amount of evidence" in the case.
"It involves between 10 and 12 cars broken into, others stolen cars [crashed] into other cars cars into houses," said Second Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert W. Kinzer III.
On Wednesday, Welsh, 22, Gratton, 24, and Ledbetter, 26, appeared before Judge Daniel A. Ford, for a final pretrial conference. They have all pleaded not guilty to more than a dozen charges each, including larceny of a motor vehicle, breaking and entering, and arson. They remain in jail on $25,000 bail.
When asked by the judge whether the cases could be resolved short of trial, Kinzer responded that the major sticking point revolves around the arson charges.
The three defendants confessed to most of the crimes, according to the prosecutor, but none admit to starting the fires at adjoining businesses at 501 Dalton Ave. The fires caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to Jay's Custom Muffler & Auto, Castine Moving & Storage, a Salvation Army retail store, Casey's Billiards, and West Mountain Property Maintenance. While the fires were not large, the damage was mainly due to smoke, water and other effects of the fire, according to firefighters.
On Wednesday, the defendant's lawyers said they had just received plea offers from the DA's office.
"I received an offer today. I'm not doing cartwheels over it," attorney Marc C. Vincelette Sr., who represents Ledbetter, told the judge, "but I'll discuss it with my client."
The other attorneys in the case expressed similar views.