Accused arsonist to face trial

Defense says case relies on hearsay

A man accused of burning down a vacant house on his family’s sprawling property in Logan Township will face trial.

Michael L. Feather Jr., 41, of 2716 Sixth Ave., appeared before Magisterial District Judge Steven Jackson on Thursday for his preliminary hearing on arson and related charges stemming from a July 17 fire on Porta Road that destroyed a vacant home.

Feather was arrested earlier this month after an investigation into the fire.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Burkhart cited the inconsistencies with Feather’s account of the timeline of the fire and his actions during the hours leading up to its discovery about 7 p.m. July 17, Feather’s fire-related injuries — for which he sought treatment at a hospital after the fire — and the state police’s arson investigation that indicated the detection of accelerant in the burnt building after the blaze as more than enough to send the case on to Blair County Court.

Burkhart also pointed out the fire’s proximity to other structures as well as the fact it caught power lines on fire as supporting the charge of risking a catastrophe.

Jackson agreed and held all charges for court.

Assistant Public Defender Julia Burke argued the prosecution’s case relies on hearsay and also believing the house burned for six hours before anyone discovered it. She also pointed out the state police didn’t check the scene until three days after the fire, making anything supposedly found suspect because it wasn’t a secured scene.

“The problem with this case is all the incriminating evidence is supplied by unknown witnesses,” Burke told the court as Jackson considered her motion to reduce Feather’s bail that was set Aug. 4 by on-call judge Magisterial District Judge Andrew Blattenberger.

Burke said after the hearing that she believed there were misunderstandings that created the situation Feather is in now.

“I believe there are multiple avenues to show my client isn’t culpable,” Burke said. “I’m not even sure it was arson or my client was even involved.”

Burke said there were two other people staying in a tent on the property and earlier in the day Feather was burning elsewhere on the property, one that has been in his family for generations and that he was working to get cleaned up.

“The allegations in this case are serious, but there is no evidence the commonwealth can show he intended to put anyone in danger nor intimidate any witnesses,” Burke said.

In reconsidering the bail, Jackson told Feather he wasn’t going to release him on an unsecured bond but said he would modify his bail from $50,000 cash to 10 percent of $50,000.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.