LACONIA — Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll threw out one of three arson charges against a former Gilmanton man after hearing nearly six hours of probable cause testimony strung out over a two-week period.
Carroll ruled the state didn't provide enough probable cause that Jason Clairmont, 36, knowingly caused a fire that damaged a car parked in the parking lot of the Funky Monkey night club on September 4, 2013.
"There are too many holes," Carroll said, after viewing multiple surveillance tapes that showed Clairmont smoking outside of the Funky Monkey and walking near the car but little else.
Clairmont is charged with three counts of arson and is a primary suspect in a number of other arsons in Laconia — including two that occurred on January 25 and for which Carroll ruled there is probable cause to continue to trial.
According to the testimony given yesterday by two Laconia Police detectives, Clairmont said he accidentally threw a cigarette or some ashes into a car that was parked on the corner of Bowman and Academy Streets.
Video tapes show him in the Funky Monkey, at Cumberland Farms, walking along Bowman Street and crossing through the parking lot of Young's Auto Sales all around the time the car fire was set — around 2 a.m. January 25. In addition, Clairmont was found by a Gilford Police Officer walking in the area of Highland Street shortly after a second fire was set in some lattice work on a house at 91 Highland Street.
Video from Lakes Region General Hospital shows the Gilford officer bringing Clairmont to the emergency room at 3:06 p.m. for the treatment of a dog bite. Information has previously been made public that Clairmont's own dog bit him at home and his girlfriend had later driven him to Laconia.
She dropped him off in the city but police are alleging Clairmont first went to the Funky Monkey, then to Cumberland Farms where he bought cigarettes, lit the car fire on Bowman Street, walked up Pine Hill to Highland Street and lit a second fire on the lattice work of a house near the hospital.
Carroll ruled that because of the time lines, the videos, and Clairmont's own statements made to police about how he could have accidentally set both fires that there was enough evidence to continue to trial.
While hearsay evidence is allowed at probable cause hearings, Clairmont's attorney John Bresaw argued unsuccessfully that the evidence presented both last week and yesterday, especially information gathered by police from a N.H. Fire Marshal who did not personally see any of the crime scenes, was too far removed to be allowed even at a probable cause hearing. His testimony included telling police that all of the fires were started with open flames and the source of ignition was either destroyed or removed.
Bresaw said the state is trying to disprove statements made by Clairmont after five hours of questioning by police about incidents he was trying to explain. He said Prosecutor Jim Sawyer never presented any evidence that Clairmont did what police contend he did.
"There's no evidence of him doing anything," Bresaw said, noting that there are many other people in the city who are out and about who also wear white sneakers and a gray sweatshirt with a white stripe on it.
"(Clairmont's) telling them what he remembers and that's not even what happened," Bresaw said.
As for the video purporting to be Clairmont at Young's Auto, Bresaw said it was rubbish. "It could have been anyone," he said.
Carroll ruled there was more than ample evidence that there was probable cause to go forward with a trial for the car fire on Bowman and the lattice fire on Highland Street. He ruled that Clairmont was in close proximity to both fires and admitted as much to police. he also said the video surveillance from Cumberland Farms is evidence that he was in the area.
Bresaw also tried to get Clairmont's bail reduced to $5,000 cash, saying his girlfriend had moved from the Gilmanton home and he could return there and that he was getting help from Horizons.
Carroll upheld the $50,000 cash only bail saying he had significant concerns with the safety of the community and that people should be able to rest comfortably in their homes.
He also ordered the state to preserve the tape from Cumberland Farms for the four hours before Clairmont was seen there and for the four hours after he was there.
The next step is for the state, through the Belknap County Attorney's Office to indict Clairmont by presenting the case to a grand jury.