A federal judge in Maryland yesterday delayed sentencing a young man who admitted helping set the fires that devastated a Charles County subdivision in December, saying he needed to know more about the defendant's role before deciding on punishment for the "extraordinarily heinous" crime.
Many of the people who had bought or were buying homes in the Hunters Brooke subdivision are black, and U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus said the arson caused "incalculable damage" to race relations.
Each of the five men charged in the arson fires is white. None has been charged with a hate crime.
Titus delayed Jeremy D. Parady's sentencing until Oct. 18. By then, the cases of the remaining four defendants, each of whom is scheduled to go to trial, should be resolved. Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna C. Sanger told Titus the trials would provide more information about the crime.
Titus said the defendants who spearheaded the crime will be dealt with harshly if they are convicted.
"At this point, I'm not sure if I have a leader or a follower in front of me," Titus said of Parady. Titus also noted that Parady admitted perjuring himself during a pretrial hearing.
The other defendants, all of whom are charged with conspiracy to commit arson, are: Aaron L. Speed, 21; Patrick S. Walsh, 20; Michael M. Everhart, 20; and Roy T. McCann, 22.
Parady, 21, pleaded guilty on April 28 to one count of conspiracy to commit arson at the Hunters Brooke housing development in Indian Head. In a statement of facts submitted as part of his plea agreement, Parady said the housing development was targeted "because he knew or perceived that many of the purchasers of the houses in that development were African American."
Federal prosecutors also have said that a desire to draw attention to a car club might have been a motivation for the arson.
Parady, a former probationary member of the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, admitted that during the early hours of Dec. 6, he drove a vehicle from house to house to light the fires.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Parady was to be sentenced to nine years and 10 months in prison. Parady's deal is not tied to any agreement to testify for the government against any of the other defendants.
Titus said he decided to wait until the charges against the remaining defendants were resolved before assessing Parady's role. The first defendant is scheduled to go to trial July 12.
Titus used strong language in describing the impact of the fires, which destroyed 12 largely unoccupied Colonial-style houses and damaged 15 others. Damage estimates for the fires range from $4.1 million to $10 million.
"This is an extraordinarily heinous series of crimes that have been committed, the consequences of which cannot be adequately measured" by monetary damage estimates, Titus said.
"This is a case involving incalculable damage to both the present and future residents of this subdivision. Incalculable damage to race relations in this state. Incalculable damage to this county, the state of Maryland and the nation. Incalculable damage to our image as a melting pot that welcomes people of all different backgrounds," Titus said.
Titus said he was concerned about Parady's "admittedly false testimony in front of me" during a pretrial hearing in April. He cited a Supreme Court decision, United States v. Grayson, that says lying by a defendant can be taken into account by judges in determining the defendant's sentence.
During the April 14 hearing, Parady testified that he lied elaborately when he implicated himself and others during interviews with investigators. He said that investigators fed him minor details and that he filled in the gaps.
Before his guilty plea, Parady was indicted on 36 counts; had he been convicted of multiple counts, he could have been sentenced to prison for decades.
Parady did not speak during yesterday's hearing. His attorney, Timothy Sullivan, declined to comment.