The alleged ringleader in the arson fires that raged through a predominantly black subdivision in Charles County in December once complained that too many blacks were moving to the region, a witness testified in federal court Friday.
Witness Anthony Fisher testified that Patrick S. Walsh made comments "a few times" about newcomers in the rural county, at least once using a pejorative term to describe blacks, and said that "Charles County's starting to end up like" Prince George's County, which has a majority black population.
The alleged statements, conveyed in testimony at the close of the first week of the trial, echo the admissions of Jeremy D. Parady, one of two defendants who have pleaded guilty. Parady confessed in April that he targeted the housing development because a large number of black people were buying homes there.
Fisher said Walsh's complaint, made at a gathering of youths who like to race cars, surprised him because one of Walsh's closest friends is black. "It kind of struck me odd," said Fisher, who said he knew Walsh through their shared interest in street racing.
The five men indicted in the case, ages 20 to 22, were charged with conspiracy and arson, not with a hate crime. Prosecutors accuse Walsh, 21, of torching the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head, about 30 miles south of Washington, to enhance the credibility of the "gang" of young people with whom he associated.
Walsh's defense attorneys contend that he was home working on his computer at the time of the Dec. 6 predawn fires. They say no physical evidence connects their client to the crimes, and they dismiss the government's potential cooperating witnesses as untrustworthy.
Defense attorney William B. Purpura suggested Friday that Fisher might have been involved in setting the fires and that investigators did little to verify his claim that he was out of state at the time.
Under questioning by Purpura, Fisher testified that he had been to Hunters Brooke in connection with his job -- working on propane tanks -- and that for a time he saw Parady regularly.
Also Friday, Purpura and prosecutor Donna Sanger clashed over the admissibility of material seized from Walsh's computer. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus said he will consider the matter when the trial resumes Tuesday.