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Barre teen pleads innocent to arson of landmark building

BARRE — Sixteen-year-old Jessica Delary was formally charged with second-degree arson, felony burglary and unlawful mischief Thursday in a devastating fire that badly damaged a downtown landmark last Memorial day weekend.

Delary pleaded innocent to all three charges in Barre criminal court. She chatted and giggled incessantly while waiting to sign off on her conditions of release and spent her time in court scribbling on her arm — at one point starting to write, “I heartnerds” before her father, Joel, finally forced her to put down the pen. She also wondered aloud how she’d look in “cornrows” and talked about one day having her tattoos removed.

Delary did not talk about the Memorial Day fire that she and Nicholas Witham, 17, of Randolph, are accused of starting in an abandoned bank building owned by Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon, or of breaking into Choice Academy, or her alleged role in what police have described as a summer “crime spree.”

Delary did mention, though only briefly, the baby that she recently delivered two months premature. The baby is still at Fletcher Allen Health Care and though Judge Geoffrey Crawford placed Delary on 24-hour curfew and required the Barre girl to maintain her residency in Washington County, she will be permitted to travel to Burlington to visit her daughter, provided she is accompanied by her father, or stepmother, Trina, who was also in court for Thursday’s arraignment.

Although prosecutors initially sought cash bail, given the severity of the charges, Deputy State’s Attorney Aaron Toscano said that issue was “resolved in Delary’s favor” before Thursday’s arraignment. It is not immediately clear how much bail the state was asking for, or why it wasn’t granted.

Delary, who grumbled about having to come up with $290.42 to cover the cost of her court-appointed lawyer, indicated she would surely have needed assistance for any bail.

“All I have is a penny,” she joked in the courthouse foyer. “I’m broke.”

During her brief hearing, Delary was placed on curfew and told she must be watched at all times, either by her father, stepmother, or sister, Brittany DuPont, who lives “up the street” from her parents home. Crawford said the only permissible reasons Delary could have not to be at one of those two residences are for accompanied visits to see her newborn daughter or for schooling.

The judge rejected the suggestion that “job search” be added to the list, indicating that was far too vague for his liking.

Delary is also forbidden from driving and the list of people she is prohibited from contacting includes Witham and Jonathan Cole.

Although Cole was not implicated in the fire or the Choice Academy break-in, court records indicated he told police he, Delary, Witham and others stole items — mostly electronics — from parked cars and sold them to get money to leave Vermont for New York after the fire.

Cole, is scheduled to be in court next week for a status conference on a charge of grand larceny.

Meanwhile, three others — Zachary Lord, Tyler Newton and Jennifer Tillotson — all have court dates today.

Newton faces charges of unlawful trespass, burglary and grand larceny. Lord faces charges of unlawful trespass and burglary. Tillotson, who court records indicate was allegedly in possession of many of the items stolen from Choice Academy, faces a charge of possession of stolen property.

Newton, Lord, and Kraig Kernehan allegedly assisted Witham and Delary with the June 1 break-in at Choice Academy, though none of the three were implicated in the third-floor fire that was started the day before.

Police are said to be still looking for Kernehan.

Both Delary and Witham were arrested on unrelated charges in New York in July and were first interviewed about the Barre fire while in custody there.

According to court documents, Delary and Witham both told police they spread a substance they believed was paint, but was actually roofing tar, on the floor of one of the offices of the abandoned building they had entered several times by climbing the fire escape to the third floor and forcing open a window. On one occasion, records state, they propped open the back door with a block of wood. They allegedly entered through that door on the day of the fire.

Although their stories differ on some points, both allegedly told police that they started the fire using checks from the former Key Bank operation that were still in the building and then attempted to extinguish the small blaze — first using a piece of Plexiglas that melted and then a wall painting that fanned the flames before catching on fire.

Unable to put out the fire, both Delary and Witham allegedly told police they fled the building and did not summon emergency personnel.

If convicted of second-degree arson both Delary and Witham could be sentenced to up to five years in jail, fined up to $1,000 or both. The crime carries a minimum sentence of one year in jail.

The other felony the two face stems from the Choice Academy burglary. If convicted of that charge the two could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, fined up to $1,000, or both. The third charge — unlawful trespass — is a misdemeanor. If convicted of that charge, which stems from their alleged entry into the abandoned bank building, Delary and Witham could be sentenced to up to one year in prison, fined up to $1,000, or both.

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