Guilty plea in arson at ex-flea market

Serial arson suspect admits setting former Schenectady flea market on fire

Thursday, February 27, 2014
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Guilty plea in arson at ex-flea market

In 2010, Schenectady firefighters finish battling a blaze in a building that once housed a flea market.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
In 2010, Schenectady firefighters finish battling a blaze in a building that once housed a flea market.

— A man accused of setting five fires over three years now faces up to 12 years in state prison after pleading guilty this week to an arson count.

Nathan A. Perkins, 20, admitted in court Tuesday to setting the May 2010 blaze that leveled the vacant Whitehouse Flea Market building on State Street, prosecutor John Healy said.

Perkins is to be sentenced in April to four to 12 years in state prison.

In all, Perkins was accused of setting five separate fires in unoccupied structures. No one was hurt.

Healy said the sentence took into account multiple factors, including the outcome of the fires and Perkins’ mental health. Questions about his condition prompted a psychiatric evaluation, Healy said, but Perkins ultimately was found to know right from wrong.

The structure of the sentence allows the parole board to determine whether Perkins can be freed safely under parole supervision, or whether he should remain in custody, Healy said.

Though Perkins realized his actions put firefighters at risk, he was adamant that he never intended physical harm, Healy said.

“It seemed like he was extremely careful to set fires at places and times that he knew it would be quickly discovered and wouldn’t hurt anybody,” Healy added.

Perkins was accused of setting five fires, the most recent on May 24 at a vacant Mumford Street building.

It was after that fire that investigators began to look into Perkins. Officials said he was a frequent visitor at fire scenes. Sometimes he got there quickly.

With the help of the city’s street surveillance cameras, investigators were ultimately able to refute elements of Perkins’ account of that fire, Healy has said.

After gathering the surveillance and other evidence, fire investigators finally confronted Perkins with the inconsistencies in September. He made admissions to fire investigators, then city police detectives.

There were two fires at the Whitehouse Flea Market building within two weeks. Healy said Thursday that Perkins was not involved in the first, a small blaze that was extinguished. That appeared to be someone illegally inside trying to cook.

Investigators used that fire and others they knew Perkins did not start to make sure he wasn’t simply admitting to anything they asked about. He correctly denied involvement in the first Whitehouse fire, but admitted to starting the second, Healy said.

Officials have also said Perkins gave investigators information only the actual arsonist would have known.

As to why Perkins started the fires, he told investigators he set the Whitehouse fire to see it razed and other buildings built on the site. Healy said Perkins told visiting Schenectady County Court Judge Richard Giardino on Tuesday it was more his fascination with the firefighting process that prompted him to set the fires.

Perkins remains in custody. He is represented by attorney Sven Paul, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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