BROCKTON – The owner of the former JJ’s pub, Patricia Harrison, 59, and her longtime boyfriend Wayne Cummings, 49, were arraigned on arson charges in the fire that destroyed the former bar at 16 Liberty Street, Hanson, last July, along with Alfred Russo, 75, who was previously accused of setting the fire.
Russo, Harrison and Cummings, all of Bourne, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Russo faces one count of burning of a dwelling and two counts of arson causing injuries to firefighters while Harrison and Cummings face one count each of burning of a dwelling.
The three appeared at Plymouth Superior Court at Brockton Friday, Oct. 26 before Judge Robert C. Cosgrove.
The assistant district attorney, Alex Zane, presented over 130 exhibits to the three defense attorneys, saying that they represented the culmination of a very long grand jury investigation. Russo is a friend of Harrison and Cummings, say police reports.
Russo, a retired Boston firefighter, was arrested last August, while Harrison and Cummings were arraigned on “direct indictments,” meaning that the matter never went to District Court, just before the grand jury. Now that the matter is in the Superior Court, the District Court proceedings are obviated.
According to the ADA, most troubling to him was the alleged fact that all three were in “precarious financial situations” – Harrison stood to gain $250,000 in insurance payouts–and were illegally consuming prescription drugs and heavily consuming alcohol, leading the judge to order all three to remain drug and alcohol free while awaiting trial.
Russo already had this condition imposed, and while Cosgrave kept it in place for him, the judge did remove the condition that he wear a GPS ankle bracelet that was used in an exclusionary manner to keep him away from the crime scene.
Harrison, according to Zane, was taking Vicodin, a narcotic pain killer, before being called as a witness before the grand jury and was asked not to take the stand because her demeanor had changed so much after consuming the pills, which she said were for an old car accident.
Zane also alleged that Russo had joked, “What’s the big deal?” and “I better get a passport,” when confronted with the allegations.
In a previous interview with the Express, Russo blamed the fire on “spontaneous combustion” and noted that his presence there on the date of the fire, which he freely admits, was a “bad coincidence.”
Russo’s Falmouth- and Taunton-based attorney, Drew Segadelli, said in a phone interview with the Express that there are other possible people that could have burnt down the building, including a “firebug,” common slang for an arsonist, who was investigated, and he says not held, at the time of the JJ’s pub arson.
The alleged serial arsonist Segadelli is apparently referring to, Mark Sargent, who investigators say committed many arsons, including one at this building, was held on $100,000 bail and ordered to home confinement and to wear a GPS bracelet if he posted bail. Sargent, according to court personnel, was being held without bail at the time of the fire, as he still is, although Segadelli suggests Sargent as an alternative to Russo in the case of the arson.
“I think that’s kind of jaw-dropping,” said Segadelli, referring to Sargent not being investigated in this case.
“Who knows the real truth? None of us were there, we just defend our people,” said Segadelli.
Maybe it’s not even an arson at all, he suggested. “They’ve got to exclude all other possibilities…to prove this is an arson,” he said.
Segadelli emphasized Russo’s age, disability and length of service with the Boston Fire Department in terms of his defense.
The fire, according to Hanson Fire Chief Jerome Thompson, III, reached nearly four alarms and totally destroyed the abandoned commercial property adjacent to the intersections of Liberty Street and East and West Washington Streets.
It sent two firefighters to the hospital, Lt. Sherilyn Mullin and Timothy Royer, who both sustained heat-related injuries and had to miss some work due to these injuries, stated court documents, and an Express photographer also was treated at a hospital due to injuries sustained in the course of her work.
The fire took some time to extinguish, due to the full involvement of the structure, according to a previous statement from the district attorney, and many towns and the state responded or provided station coverage for Hanson during the incident, according to Thompson, putting many lives at risk.
The chief has been outspoken at times, in the media and on Twitter, about this fire and especially about Russo’s release. He was present in court along with several Hanson firefighters, but did not wish to comment on the removal of Russo’s GPS bracelet.
Video surveillance from Dandel Construction Corporation was used to identify “a party” park a vehicle on the side of the abandoned building, enter through a door and remain inside for nearly eight minutes, according to reports.
The party then exits, enters a vehicle and drives away. About six minutes after the party exits the structure, smoke is visible venting from the roof, it continues. Less than nine minutes later, fire is visible out of a side window.
Police and prosecutors allege this party was Russo.
When investigators went to meet Russo at his home in Bourne two weeks after the incident, police say he, “spontaneously stated that he was driving his Jeep in Hanson on the day of the fire.”
Russo stated that he had been in Hanson on the day of the fire for a cookout at Cummings’ sister’s house but didn’t end up attending because he didn’t feel well, according to the report.
He freely admitted to driving to the JJ’s Pub property, purportedly to move a generator, but said he never went inside, according to police.
They are next scheduled for a pre-trial conference in Plymouth Superior Court at Plymouth on Dec. 20 at 2 p.m.