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Md. Arson Suspect's Account Varied

Contradictions Led to Arrest, Affidavit Shows

By Eric Rich and Arthur Santana
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 18, 2004; Page A01

The arson charge that landed Aaron L. Speed in a federal courtroom yesterday was brought because he repeatedly tripped over his own story in accounting for his whereabouts during the early-morning hours when fire engulfed 10 new homes in a Charles County subdivision.

Using contradictory statements Speed gave reporters and investigators, and tracking his movements by pinpointing the cell phone towers that handled his calls, authorities successfully confronted Speed with his deceptions on Thursday, according to a federal affidavit. He admitted that he was "present" when the fires were set, the court document said.


Aaron L. Speed, 21, center, arrives at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt for a hearing. He was ordered held without bail during a brief appearance. (Chris Gardner -- AP)

_____Document_____
Affidavit signed by FBI agent in support of criminal complaint against Aaron L. Speed.
_____Photo Gallery_____
Md. Arson: Ten homes were destroyed and 16 damaged, resulting in an estimated $10 million in destruction to the new subdivision.
_____More From The Post_____
Guard Charged In Md. Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 17, 2004)
U.S. Prosecution Is Likely for Md. Mass Arson Case (The Washington Post, Dec 16, 2004)
Ecology Terrorism Doubted In Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 15, 2004)
11 More Houses Were Targeted In Md. Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 9, 2004)
Arson Brings Battle Over Bog to Surface (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Developer Plans to Rebuild Houses (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Arson Turns A Dream Into Dread (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
_____Graphic_____
Charles County Fires

As a federal judge ordered Speed held without bail, a picture emerged yesterday from documents and interviews of a man who was deeply troubled by the death of his infant son, frustrated in his effort to become a volunteer firefighter and unhappy with the security service that employed him.

Speed, 21, appeared to avoid eye contact with his pregnant wife, Tamara, and other family members during a brief appearance yesterday in U.S. District Court. Wearing a black T-shirt bearing an image of a skeleton and the phrase "Dead Stroke," he responded respectfully as Magistrate Judge William Connelly advised him of his rights and granted his request for a public defender.

The seven-page affidavit says Speed admitted that he, "along with others with whom he was acquainted," was at the Hunters Brooke subdivision Dec. 6 when fires that destroyed or damaged 26 unoccupied houses were set.

Law enforcement sources said a second suspect was being questioned yesterday. The suspect, whom they declined to name, was identified as a man who had been rejected for a job by Lennar Corp., the developer of the houses.

Speed came to the attention of investigators after he showed up at the fire scene not long after the predawn conflagrations were brought under control by scores of firefighters.

He identified himself to a Washington Post reporter as an employee of Security Services of America, the company contracted to guard the construction sight, and was quoted in the newspaper as raising suspicion about a van that he said he saw "lingering around" the area before the fires erupted.

That led to his questioning by investigators when, according to the affidavit, he was asked to speculate on the methods that the arsonist might have used.

He responded that the fires might have been set by "someone pouring an accelerant, followed by someone lighting it."

How?

"With a torch," the affidavit quotes him as saying.

What type of torch could be used?

"Hand-held propane torch."


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