PITTSFIELD — Lonnie Durfee, the Dalton man charged with setting fire to a stack of hay bales that bore an endorsement for the Democratic presidential ticket, has been released from custody.
Judge John Agostini ordered Durfee released from custody with a number of conditions after a videoconference bail review hearing Monday in Superior Court. His decision reverses the Oct. 16 ruling by Judge Paul Smyth ordering Durfee held without bail until his criminal case is resolved.
Agostini, in a written order issued Tuesday, wrote that Durfee “may be a danger to himself” due to his issues with mental health and alcohol, but disagreed with Smyth’s conclusion that no conditions of release would ensure the community’s safety. He ruled that holding Durfee for an “indeterminate period of time” while his criminal case is pending was unwarranted.
He ordered Durfee released from custody with a GPS monitor and barred him from leaving his Home Terrace address in Dalton unless he’s going to work, a medical or legal appointment, or gets permission from probation. He must also submit to random alcohol testing.
Durfee was arrested on a charge of burning personal property the day after police said he admitted to using gasoline and motor oil on Oct. 9 to accelerate the fire he set to 19 hay bales at Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton, which bore a Biden-Harris endorsement. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in a House of Correction, according to Agostini.
The incident was reported by news outlets around the country.
Agostini said Durfee’s use of fire to make send a political message was a “very bad choice” that had “unlimited” potential to cause damage or injuries, though no one was reported hurt.
There was no evidence, wrote Agostini, that Durfee was seeking vengeance or retribution against the owners of the farm. Nor was there any evidence that “sinister motivation encompassing white supremacy or domestic terrorism” had inspired Durfee to burn the display.
“Other than the fact that the defendant is a Trump supporter, there are no facts supporting such a claim,” wrote Agostini. “There is no law against his political persuasion.”
Rather, Durfee, 49, had made a “misguided and foolish political statement that was done contrary to the fundamental precepts of democracy.”
Defense lawyer Robert Sullivan, at an earlier hearing, argued Durfee’s judgment had been clouded by grief. Agostini also concluded that Durfee’s actions were “fueled by alcohol and the emotional upheaval due to his son’s recent death.”
Alcohol played “a major role in virtually all of his [Durfee’s] criminal behavior” dating back to 2002, which began a span of years over which Durfee was charged with offenses like breaking and entering to commit a felony and received a one-year jail sentence in 2016. The judge said many of the charges had to do with a volatile relationship with his wife.
Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, in commending the lower court’s no-bail decision earlier this month, said the intentionally set fire was a concern given Durfee’s “pattern of domestic violence” and strangulation, saying he was “escalating his hostility against the public at large.”
At the bail-review hearing this week, prosecutors once again argued, though the judge did not agree, that Durfee should continue being held in custody as a danger.
“While we are disappointed that the Superior Court reversed the District Court’s decision, we respect the judge’s authority to make this determination,” said Andy McKeever, a spokesman for Harrington’s office, in a Wednesday email.
Defense lawyer Sullivan was pleased with Agostini’s ruling and satisfied with the court-imposed conditions Durfee must follow.
“I think he can do well in the community with the structure that the court imposed,” he said.