BANGOR – In its second attempt to convict a 19-year-old Bangor man of setting fire to a historic downtown building, the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office got its guilty verdict late Thursday afternoon.
After deliberating for four hours, the jury delivered its verdict about 4:30 p.m., convicting Scott Gagnon of Class A arson. He is facing up to 20 years in prison.
Gagnon has been incarcerated at the Penobscot County Jail since his arrest just days after the April 4, 2000, fire at the building on the corner of Exchange and State streets in the heart of downtown Bangor.
Much of the six-story building was heavily damaged in the early morning blaze, and the Extra Touch lingerie shop, which occupied the first floor of the building, was destroyed. Damage was estimated at $750,000.
Though the building has been refurbished, the Extra Touch has not reopened and is not expected to, according to the owner who testified during the four-day trial.
Prosecutors believe Gagnon and another man, Harold Hawkes, 19, of Bangor, were intoxicated and hanging around downtown when they threw a metal pipe through the plate-glass windows at the Extra Touch and then lobbed a Molotov cocktail inside, which started the fire.
Gagnon was tried for arson last December, but the judge declared a mistrial when the jury failed to reach a verdict. Gagnon, however, remained charged with the crime, and the state immediately began preparing for a new trial.
Though testimony and arguments made at both trials were virtually identical, this week’s jury decided that Gagnon committed the crime.
Gagnon’s sentencing will occur sometime this spring, and he remains in custody at the jail.
Earlier this year, Hawkes pleaded guilty to arson for his role in the fire. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
At Gagnon’s first trial, Hawkes had been called as a witness, but since the charges against him were still pending, Hawkes invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.
Since he now has pleaded guilty, it was expected that the state might call him to testify against Gagnon.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts said Thursday he was not confident enough in Hawkes as a witness to risk putting him on the stand.
“When he pleaded guilty, I was never satisfied that he was telling the complete truth about his involvement in this crime, and I didn’t want to put someone on the stand that might not tell the truth,” Roberts said.
Roberts said if anything differed in the way he presented the case this time, it may have been a bit more focus on Gagnon’s state of mind when the crime occurred.
Though both sets of jurors heard a taped confession Gagnon gave to police just days after the fire, Roberts said Gagnon never really admitted that he intended to cause a fire. This time, Roberts said he might have focused more on convincing jurors that Gagnon’s act was intentional and not an accident.
Gagnon’s attorney, Jeff Silverstein of Bangor, tried to convince jurors that Gagnon confessed only because police bullied him for hours, finally prompting him to “tell them what they wanted to hear.”
Halfway through the deliberations, jurors asked to hear the second half of the confession tape in which Gagnon admitted to police his involvement.