Judge: Arson charges will stand
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Arson and related charges remain intact against an Altoona man accused of setting fire to his city residence in June 2019.
Jerret T. Aungst, 38, who remains incarcerated in Blair County Prison, said Thursday that he was under the influence of methamphetamine when Altoona police questioned him about the fire.
It was during the questioning, police said, when Aungst admitted to being at his 3816 W. Chestnut Ave. residence before the fire started.
Police said he told them he turned on the gas grill on the front porch before walking away and that the house held a lot of bad memories for him, linked to drug use and his divorce.
In a court hearing Thursday before Judge Elizabeth Doyle, Aungst testified to recalling “bits and pieces” of the interview conducted by police. It occurred within a few hours after the Altoona Fire Department responded to a 3:45 a.m. fire that destroyed Aungst’s residence. Firefighters were able to save the neighboring houses.
Aungst, testifying by video from the prison, said he had no recollection of any police officer explaining his right to remain silent. Before that interview, Aungst said he had been up for days and was regularly using methamphetamine.
“I was extremely intoxicated,” he testified.
Defense attorney Christian Kerstetter asked the judge to consider his client’s condition when he allegedly waived his Miranda rights, denied using methamphetamine and made other conflicting statements to police.
District Attorney Pete Weeks objected to the request.
“The defendant’s testimony is self-serving,” Weeks said.
In a ruling from the bench, Doyle relied on body camera video captured by Altoona Police Sgt. Derek Swope and concluded that Aungst voluntarily consented to the police interview.
The judge said she looked for signs of Aungst being confused and saw none. She also said she found Swope’s testimony to be credible.
Swope, who also testified Thursday, described Aungst as deceptive while being interviewed. He said before responding to questions, Aungst would repeat the questions so he had more time to compose answers.
The officer also mentioned that Aungst corrected an address during the interview.
He was “absolutely not intoxicated,” the officer testified.
Aungst’s bail, set in June 2019 when he was arrested, remains at $50,000 cash.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.