Baye Arson Admission Shown in Taped Interview; Expert in False Confessions to Take Stand
NORTHAMPTON – Anthony Baye sat shackled in court this week as his lawyers fought to suppress confessions made by the accused arsonist during a lengthy police interrogation on Jan. 4., 2010.
Ten hours of video and audio were aired at Hampshire Superior Court over three days, chronicling Baye’s questioning by Michael Mazza and Sgt. Paul Zipper, both long-time police investigators with the State Fire Marshall’s Office.
At the conclusion of the interview, Baye was arrested and held without bail. He faces two counts of murder and some 40 other charges related to a string of arsons that devastated the city one night last winter.
Baye is accused of setting 15 house and car fires here in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 27. One of those fires, at 17 Fair Street, killed a father, Paul Yeskie Sr., 81, and his mentally disabled son, Paul Yeskie Jr., 39.
The hearing, held at the request of defense lawyers David P. Hoose and Thomas Lesser, will determine which evidence can be used at Baye’s trial, expected to start September 20. Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney is presiding over the case.
Baye, 26, of 58 Hawley St., then a line cook at the downtown Sierra Grille, eventually seemed to admit on tape that he remembered setting six or seven of the fires, including the fatal blaze at 17 Fair St.
Flattery, Banter, and Persuasion
The day-long questioning started at the Northampton Police Department, repaired to the Bluebonnet Diner on King Street (where Baye ordered a New York strip steak, mashed potatoes and fried eggplant), moved to an unmarked police car cruising the streets of the city, and ended back at the station, where Baye was finally arrested after admitting knowledge of the fatal Fair Street fire.
During the morning session, Baye at first revealed little memory of the events of of Dec. 27, and even denied that he had been on Fair Street that night.
Mazza and Zipper talked to Baye non-stop, even when he answered only with grunts or silence.
At times, the two plain-clothed officers seemed to toy with Baye, talking about smart phone applications, about the movie “Hangover,” which Baye at first insisted he had watched with a friend during the time the fires erupted, and about sports, music, food, cars, and Baye’s girlfriend.
But eventually, the cops focused upon obtaining a confession.
“It was an accident,” Mazza repeatedly said to Baye, referring to the deaths of the Yeskies. “You didn’t mean to kill anybody.”
Mazza told Baye that he’d built a “fabulous case” and had more than enough evidence to prove his guilt. He also repeatedly assured Baye that he cared about him and liked him. “I don’t take just anybody to lunch,” he said.
Mazza told Baye city police had turned on their cruiser cameras after the second fire was reported, and he’d been seen getting into his car on Union Street around the time a fire was reported near there. He told Baye his car was also seen, and the license plate run, on Williams Street about 2:43 a.m. by an officer leaving the scene of a car fire there.
“This is what I do for a living,” Mazza told Baye on the tape. “I can put you at several of these fires.”
The two vowed to go to bat for Baye with the district attorney if he would agree that the Fair Street deaths were accidental.
Mazza and Zipper told Baye that the Yeskies were not only hoarders, but had blocked back door egress from their home in an undocumented house renovation. The two said a constellation of factors — including delayed fire department response, low water pressure, and difficulty pulling a fire hose through the junk-strewn yard contributed to the deaths — not just Baye’s flick of the lighter.
The detectives suggested that Baye must have thought the run-down and darkened house was abandoned.
“I know you’re scared right now,” Mazza told the suspect. “And I’m the only one that can help you help yourself.”
Baye finally admitted he did not know anyone was in the Fair Street house and never meant to hurt anyone. He said he remembered seeing a box on the Yeskie’s porch, and drew its location for the officers.
That admission came after Mazza suggested there was a camera at the adjacent Three County Fairgrounds that placed Baye at the house.
By then, Mazza had skewered Baye’s alibi that he had been watching a movie with a friend when the fires occurred. A city patrol officer saw Baye’s car leaving the scene of a car fire on Williams Street at about 2:40 and ran his license plate, Mazza said.
Baye granted assent to have his apartment searched, then engaged in a tangential discussion with the two about the relative merits of various hand-crafted draft beers.
When told he was under arrest, he put his head in his hands and sat back.
“My life is over,” he said. “It absolutely is.”
Prosecutor Calls Cops and Dispatcher to the Stand; Plays 911 Calls
Earlier this week, Special Northwestern District prosecutor Brett Vottero called police officers to the stand who had either spotted Baye’s car that morning or stopped him as they patrolled near the fire sites.
Vottero also called to the stand Kelley Woods, the city’s head police-fire dispatcher, who described the scene that morning as frantic 911 calls poured in over a two-hour period.
Many of those calls were played in court, including one placed by Paul Yeskie Jr. in the moments before his death.
On that tape, Yeskie’s voice described a “big fire” on the porch of his home at 17 Fair St.
“I can’t get up,” he said. “I can’t get out of here.” Police later found him and his father near an open window in the charred house.
Defense Team to Challenge Interrogation Techniques
Hoose, in cross-examining Mazza today, portrayed the detective as an expert in extracting desired results rather than a dispassionate arson investigator. “You’re the confession guy,” Hoose said.
Judge Sweeney told Hoose that she would allow him to call an expert witness on interrogation and false confession, Dr. Alan Hirsch of Williamstown., in a continuation of the hearing in June.
Hoose also told Sweeney that he would like a change of venue for Baye’s trial.
Defense lawyers say police did not have probable cause to stop and question Baye the night of the arsons.
On the stand, Detective Robinson, who questioned Baye in his car on Bancroft Street and searched his trunk, acknowledged to Hoose that Baye had committed no traffic violations.
Hoose and Lesser also say Baye was denied the right to a lawyer during the lengthy interrogation eight days later.
But arson investigator Michael Mazza testified in court Thursday that Baye had been read his Miranda rights on Dec. 30, five days before his confessions and arrest.
Prosecutors Point to Admitted Lies and Alleged Confession
Prosecutors can already point to two lies apparently told by Baye.
Baye told police that on Dec. 26 he attended a Northampton High School reunion party at the World War II Club on Conz St., left with one friend to go to the 7-11 store, then visited another friend in the Crescent Street neighborhood, where they watched a movie from about 1:30 to 3:30 a.m. on the 27th— an alibi later discredited by the arson detectives.
Baye has also admitted that around 3:30 a.m. he lied to Northampton Police Detective Corey Robinson about his plans to visit a girlfriend. Robinson approached Baye, who was sitting in his brown Toyota Camry on Bancroft Road. Baye told the cop he was in the neighborhood to visit his girlfriend, but when asked to back up his story, he admitted he only pretended to call her, and then pretended to knock at the back door of an apartment house.
Baye denied setting other suspicious fires in his neighborhood over the years. But he described childhood incidents where he and his friends lit paper bags filled with dog droppings and throw them on house porches.
Baye said the fires were started with only a lighter, and that none of the porches he entered had been locked.
He also said he had consumed about 13 drinks that night, in the form of beers and Coke and Jack Daniels.
Baye said that when he woke the next morning and learned there were 15 fires and that two people had died in one of them, he was puzzled and shocked that he might have been responsible.
“It’s just like. . . I was a totally different person,” he told Mazza.
By Mary Serreze and David Reid
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at email@example.com
Mary Serreze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org