Man enters no-contest plea for house fire
HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Frankstown Township man charged last March with burning his home and garage and cutting down several trees on his property in reaction to his domestic issues does not remember the incident, according to his attorney.
As a result, the defendant, Edward Wilson Houck, 51, now living in Hollidaysburg, entered a no-contest plea Friday to one count of felony arson, an offense that could land him in prison for up to 20 years and result in a $20,000 fine.
Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who accepted the no-contest plea, is scheduled to sentence Houck in March.
Part of the plea agreement Friday included dismissal of seven other charges against Houck. They included aggravated assault, resisting arrest, recklessly endangering another person, risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, obstructing emergency services and possession of a prohibited firearm.
Doyle ordered the Blair County Parole and Probation Office to conduct a presentence investigation, a report that will provide background on Houck that can be taken into consideration by the judge when she imposes her sentence.
Houck remains free on bail.
The defendant was arrested last March 30 after Logan Township police and firefighters responded to a fire at his spacious Frankstown Road property.
The property included a home, a two-story garage and several large trees.
According to initial police reports, Houck attempted to barricade his property to keep first responders and firefighters away from the burning house and garage.
A row of pine trees in front of the house were cut down, as well.
Houck was allegedly carrying a .38-caliber firearm.
According to police, the home’s heating tanks had been punctured, spilling fuel into the basement.
Fuel had also been dumped in the garage and house.
Houck and his former wife were scheduled to meet within days of the fire to discuss the division of marital assets.
Initially, a plea agreement was reached under which Houck would serve a year in prison, but his attorney, Theodore Krol, reported Friday the defense and the prosecution could not come to an agreement where Houck should serve the detention part of his sentence – behind bars or on house arrest.
Blair County Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise, handling the prosecution, would not agree to house arrest, Krol stated.
Also, Krol said, a pretrial psychiatric exam indicated Houck was suffering from amnesia, meaning he couldn’t remember the traumatic events that occurred that day.
Houck agreed to enter a no-contest plea. He is not admitting to the charges but agreed that the prosecution has enough evidence that could result in a conviction if he went to trial.
Doyle is scheduled to sentence Houck, but that task may be transferred to another judge because Doyle presided over some of Houck’s domestic issues when they came before the court.
Houck has entered an open plea, meaning there is no agreement on the sentence or whether it will require to serve time behind bars or home detention.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.