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Charges Dropped, DA Orders New Investigation Into Deadly Northampton Fires

BOSTON (AP) — Prosecutors have launched a new grand jury investigation into a series of suspicious Northampton fires, including one that killed a father and son, weeks after the state's highest court threw out the chief suspect's confession.

The Northwestern District Attorney's office said Monday that it's dropped homicide and arson charges against Anthony Baye, who was arrested in 2010 after he made the flawed confession.

The DA said Baye, 27, remained jailed Monday after a judge ordered him held on $150,000 bail on charges of misleading authorities investigating the fires, which were set between 2007 and 2009.

Baye confessed setting the fires after 10 hours of police interrogation. But the Supreme Judicial Court tossed out the confession in May, saying police used improper techniques, such as exaggerating the strength of their case and minimizing the gravity of the crimes. Baye's attorney, Kevin Hoose, said his client was subjected to "constant browbeating" and forced into a false confession.

Prosecutors initially said they had enough evidence to convict Baye without the confession. But on Monday, they said "fairness dictates" that a new grand jury consider the evidence, since Baye's confession was crucial to their presentation to the previous grand jury, which indicted Baye.

"Ensuring the integrity of the grand jury process and protecting the rights of all citizens, victims and defendants alike, remains central to seeking justice in this case," the DA's office said in a statement.

Hoose said prosecutors are trying to salvage a weak case and tie his client to other unsolved fires by starting over. He said Baye's friends and family have all been subpoenaed.

"It somewhat smacks of desperation measures," Hoose said. "If their case was as strong as they claimed it was after the SJC decision, I don't think you'd be seeing this tactic."

Hoose said his client "has nothing to do with any of (the fires)."

Baye hadn't made bail as of Monday afternoon, and Hoose wouldn't comment on whether he believed he would.

The unsolved fires began in 2007 and peaked in Dec. 27, 2009, when 15 separate blazes were set, including six in homes. The worst of them killed World War II veteran Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and his 39-year-old son, Paul Yeskie Jr.

The fires overwhelmed the local department and prompted a regional emergency response. The community later rallied to help victims, including by hosting a fundraising concert headlined by folk singer Arlo Guthrie.

Baye, a worker at a local restaurant, became a suspect after he or his car were spotted by police near several of the fires as they were being put out.

Prosecutors also said Baye was seen on surveillance video in the area the night of the fires, which contradicted his alibi that he was visiting his girlfriend.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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