Whitingham arson suspect pleads not guilty
Photo Gallery | Bilby appears in court
WHITINGHAM — A man who was accused of stealing items from a Jacksonville home is now accused of setting the house on fire after he burglarized it.
Dustin Bilby, 32, of Whitingham, pleaded not guilty to first-degree arson and burglary charges at his arraignment on Monday in Windham County Superior Court Criminal Division and was held on $5,000 bail.
The Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit was asked to check out an Aug. 4 fire at 568 Route 100 in Jacksonville after Whitingham Fire Chief Stan Janovsky said the fire appeared suspicious.
Janovsky was the first to arrive to the scene and saw "heavy fire coming from the windows and front door on the road side of the house as well as the back of the building," an affidavit said. After the fire was extinguished, firefighters saw an open and partially emptied fuel container on its side in the living room. A two-day investigation determined the fire to be "incendiary" and to have been "set by direct human involvement with the use of accelerants."
The homeowner and victim in this case was alerted of the fire while at work in Burlington. He reported having issues with a juvenile earlier in the summer. He had caught the youth smoking marijuana in his home. He then set up a motion-activated camera in his house. He showed investigators footage captured from the night before the fire.
"The video revealed two male subjects breaking into the home at approximately 11:33 p.m. Shortly after the break-in, all of the cameras stopped recording as if they were shut off or removed," the affidavit said. "We then attempted to locate the cameras and determined they were missing from the locations (the victim) had reported positioned them."
The victim told police that he had not left his bedroom in such a mess and his deceased wife's ashes were missing. The ashes had been in a granite urn. Only a few people knew where the ashes were, according to the victim, and their ownership was currently a point of contention within the family.
A juvenile suspect claimed he had stolen the ashes but said the fire was an accident, according to the affidavit.
"(The juvenile suspect) said they were just hanging out and Dustin (Bilby) just suddenly said that this was the night they screw with (the victim)," police said.
The juvenile suspect, who had allegedly smoked marijuana in the victim's home with another juvenile in a previous incident, told investigators that he and Bilby went to the victim's home and knocked on the door. When no one answered, no lights were on and the victim's car was not parked in the driveway, the juvenile suspect said he urinated on the door handle.
Thinking they were through, the juvenile said he began walking home but then heard a window break. He knew it was Bilby, according to the affidavit. They left the residence but later returned.
The juvenile said Bilby went back into the house first and they soon found the urn. They exited the home through a window. Then Bilby returned to the house yet again, according to the affidavit.
"Dustin (Bilby) came, he said that he didn't know what happened, but the house is on fire," police wrote, using the juvenile suspect's testimony. "(The juvenile suspect) went back to the house and indicated that while at the front door, he saw one gas can spilled in the living room where Dustin (Bilby) says it had been all the time. Another gas can was tipped over at the entryway to (the victim's) bedroom. (The juvenile suspect) stated that the first time they were in the house, both cans were in the entryway or mudroom."
The juvenile claimed he and his family had nothing to do with making the decision to get the urn, according to police. He said it was all meant to be a practical joke.
The urn was found in a backpack where Bilby was staying. Police said Bilby admitted to starting a fire but claimed he had no intention on burning the house down.
"He said it was all (the juvenile suspect's) plan and he just went along," the affidavit stated. "He just lit a jacket on fire that was in (the victim's) old bedroom but he put it out by stomping on it ... He said, 'I'm just an accessory.'"
Bilby claimed he did not know the juvenile was going to steal the urn until they left the house, according to police. Bilby said the juvenile talked him into it. Also stolen from the house were candles, a basket and a video game console.
Bail was originally set at $20,000. But the amount was lowered in court on Monday due to Bilby's inability to pay such a high fee.
Judge Katherine Hayes also ordered Bibly to participate in an electronic monitoring program through the Windham County Sheriff's Office.
"These are really serious charges. You're looking at a 25-year felony," Hayes said, referring to the count involving burglary into an occupied dwelling.
The arson charge, also a felony, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.