Help of two governors needed to get arson suspect back to Mass.
PITTSFIELD — Getting the man suspected of setting four fires in Pittsfield back to a local arraignment will need the intervention of two governors.
The process could keep Phillip J. Jordan in Vermont until nearly Christmas.
In a Vermont court appearance Wednesday, Jordan was unable to satisfy a judge that he is legally competent to waive his rights, as officials attempted to use the normal extradition process to return him to Pittsfield.
Jordan, 58, is believed to have intentionally set four fires in Pittsfield on Sept. 22, including one that ravaged his home at 112 Appleton Ave.
He is being held on $25,000 bail at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vt., on a fugitive from justice warrant. He was arrested Sept. 23 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Highgate Springs Port of Entry at the U.S.-Canadian border.
Family members and friends say Jordan was in a mental health crisis at the time of the fires. When he arrives back in Massachusetts, he is expected to be charged with three counts of burning a dwelling.
Joseph Pieropan, an assistant district attorney, said Thursday that Jordan was unable to answer two questions put to him by Judge A. Gregory Rainville in Franklin District Court in St. Albans.
The court resorted to that process after determining that it could not grant his attorney's request that Jordan receive a mental competency evaluation.
Under Vermont law, those evaluations are only conducted for defendants in criminal proceedings related to offenses in the Green Mountain State.
Pieropan noted that Jordan is being held on a fugitive from justice warrant, which did not qualify for an evaluation, as the court determined last week.
Jordan was asked in court Wednesday morning to confirm his name and to say where he was at the time of the fires.
Pieropan said he was told by a Vermont prosecutor that Jordan was partially responsive. He said he didn't know what part of the queries tripped up the process.
"He came up just short," Pieropan said. "He did not answer to the court's satisfaction."
That led the judge to return Jordan to custody. A new Oct. 24 court date was set.
"He's like a man without a country," Pieropan said.
The Berkshire District Attorney's Office will now prepare paperwork that will go to the office of Gov. Charlie Baker. He must then forward what's known as a "governor's warrant" to the Vermont governor.
Though Pieropan said the documents can be filed quickly with Baker's office, delays can occur in having them approved and mailed. Then the Vermont governor, Phil Scott, must review and approve the request.
"That's where most of the delay occurs," Pieropan said. The "governor's warrant" process can take 60 days, he said.
The other Sept. 22 fires were reported at 47 Fort Hill Ave., off West Street; at 42-44 Brown St. in the city's Morningside section; and at 85 Ridge Ave., near Pontoosuc Lake.
No one was injured in the fires.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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