Pittsfield arson suspect's transfer held up by limit in Vt. law

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ST. ALBANS, Vt. — The man believed to have set four fires in Pittsfield remains in legal limbo in Vermont, his extradition to Massachusetts held up by a provision in state law here.

Phillip J. Jordan continues to be jailed at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton, near St. Albans.

Jordan's court-appointed public defender requested a mental health competency evaluation after Jordan was arrested Sept. 23 on a fugitive from justice charge near the Canadian border. That came a day after Massachusetts authorities contend he set four fires, one of which gutted his Appleton Avenue home in Pittsfield. No one was injured in the fires.

Family and friends say Jordan, 58, was afflicted at the time with undisclosed mental health issues.

On Tuesday, his attorney returned to Franklin District Court in St. Albans to explain that because Jordan has not been accused of a crime in Vermont, the court lacks the authority to order a competency exam.

"Being a fugitive is not a crime," attorney Rosanna Chase told A. Gregory Rainville, after conferring privately with two prosecutors.

As a result, the question of whether Jordan is able to understand and waive his legal rights is holding up a request from law enforcement officials in Pittsfield that he be returned to Massachusetts.

To resolve the impasse, Rainville accepted a recommendation from Chase that he set a hearing that could allow Jordan's transfer without undergoing an evaluation.

Jordan will be asked at the hearing to do two things: confirm his identity and acknowledge he was in Pittsfield at the time of the alleged offenses.

"We'll get him in here as soon as we can," Rainville said. The date of that hearing was not immediately set due to what the judge described as the court's crowded calendar.

Jordan was not present at Tuesday's session, but will be brought under guard to the next one. He remains held on $25,000 bail.

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If Jordan is unable to make the needed declarations in court, he will remain jailed in Vermont, his attorney noted with dismay in an interview outside the courtroom.

"Then the process will take longer and he will be incarcerated," Chase said. She said she planned to brief Berkshire District Attorney Paul Caccaviello on the development.

But a Vermont prosecutor expressed confidence that Jordan will be transferred soon.

"Massachusetts will come get him in short order, your honor," John Lavoie, a deputy state's attorney in Vermont, told Rainville. "It will be up to his Massachusetts counsel to raise the appropriate competency evaluation."

James A. Hughes, the state's attorney, joined with Chase and Lavoie to work out the proposed solution.

"Hopefully, we can get this guy back there," Hughes said in an interview.

Chase declined Tuesday to characterize Jordan's mental state at the time of his first court appearance Sept. 24.

She indicated that her action spoke for itself. "It was enough to request a competency evaluation," Chase said.

Once back in Berkshire County, Jordan is expected to face three counts of burning a dwelling. Caccaviello said last week he expected the issue of competency would be raised by defense counsel at Jordan's early court appearances in Massachusetts.

The Sept. 22 fires occurred at Jordan's home at 112 Appleton Ave. near downtown; at 47 Fort Hill Ave., off West Street; at 42-22 Brown St. in the city's Morningside section; and at 85 Ridge Ave., near Pontoosuc Lake.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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