WEST CHESTER, Pa. – A teenager accused of setting nine fires in an arson-plagued Philadelphia suburb led investigators to several of the scenes and later confessed in a police interview, law enforcement officials testified in court Friday.
Roger Leon Barlow Jr., 19, was held for trial after a preliminary hearing on arson and aggravated assault charges in connection with blazes that broke out in Coatesville between Jan. 2 and Feb. 3. The arsons included a massive fire that severely damaged 15 row houses. A trial date was not set.
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A federal investigator testified in court that Barlow, of Downingtown, changed his story several times during a Feb. 18 interview, but ultimately admitted involvement in the fires.
Jason Wick, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Barlow also drove him and other investigators around to the sites and referred to the row house fire as "the big one."
"He stated that he sprayed some type of accelerant and moved away from the building," Wick said. "He stated that there were other fires he was responsible for setting."
Coatesville police Detective Kevin Campbell testified that Barlow initially confessed to six fires, but later admitted to nine.
"He took responsibility for nine fires," Campbell said.
On cross-examination of several witnesses, defense attorney Terrence J. Marlowe pointed out that no one had seen his client set the fires and that no physical evidence had been found.
Barlow sat quietly through the hearing, initially dressed in a flannel sweat shirt. At one point in the three-hour hearing, Marlowe requested a short break because his client was sweating and he returned wearing only a T-shirt.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco said after the hearing that prosecutors have additional evidence, but he declined to elaborate. He said Barlow's confession was not forced.
Marlowe had wanted District Judge Grover Koon to dismiss at least two of the charges — including one fire that started in a trash container — but Koon ordered Barlow to be tried on all of them. Barlow is also charged with five counts of aggravated assault for minor injuries suffered by firefighters and police battling the blazes.
Coatesville has endured at least 45 arsons since February 2008, including 19 this year. One person has died. At least 18 other arsons have occurred in nearby communities during the same period.
In February, authorities announced charges against Barlow and a former classmate, Mark Gilliam, 19, of West Chester. Gilliam is charged with a fire at a restaurant in nearby Thorndale; authorities have said he had applied to join the nearby West Bradford Fire Co. but was rejected.
An attorney for Gilliam has said that his client is presumed innocent.
In December, authorities also arrested three people believed to have been responsible for other arsons, including a December blaze that killed an 83-year-old woman.