The owner of the Park Street apartment building that burned in December of 2007, killing tenant Debra Morris, was indicted Thursday by a Fulton County grand jury on murder and arson charges.
Jeffrey E. Alnutt, 55, a Syracuse-area resident now serving a federal weapons sentence, was indicted on counts of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, second-degree arson, third-degree arson and reckless endangerment.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira would not say Thursday just how Alnutt set the fire, but she said the 18-month investigation included a laboratory analysis that identified a petroleum-based product in the first-floor apartment occupied by Alnutt’s girlfriend. That’s where the fire is believed to have started.
The 39-year-old Morris, a second-floor tenant, escaped but was overcome when she returned to rescue her cat.
Sira also disclosed in court Thursday that she will present transcripts gathered under an eavesdropping warrant.
The indictment accuses Alnutt of setting the fire but provides no details about the prosecution’s theory of the case.
Defense attorney Gerard V. Heckler said that it’s premature for him to comment but said that he and his client anticipated the indictment. He said that Alnutt maintains his innocence and denies all of the allegations.
A second arson case was already pending against Alnutt, who was indicted along with his daughter and son-in-law in January for allegedly burning down a Steele Avenue house in 2004 and collecting about $210,000 in insurance money. In that fire, police allege that cooking oil was left burning on the stove.
The Park Street fire led authorities to reopen the investigation of the 2004 blaze and a 2002 fire at a house Alnutt owned on Hoffman Street in Johnstown.
Gloversville Police Captain James Lorenzoni called the Park Street probe “an extremely complex and long-term investigation” involving Gloversville detectives and investigators from the state Insurance Department’s Frauds Bureau and the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Witnesses tracked down across the state were interviewed, he said.
In a prepared statement, Sira said the Morris family has been tremendously patient as this investigation became prolonged.
“We will continue to seek justice for Ms. Morris, who died so senselessly and tragically,” Sira said.
Alnutt has a long criminal history, including a drug sale conviction in the 1980s. In the federal gun possession case, he pleaded guilty last year to selling two shotguns he could not legally own because of his felony record.
In the 1988 drug sale case in Oswego County, Alnutt was sentenced to a prison term of eight to 25 years.
A Syracuse Post-Standard story on Alnutt’s legal problems said he was charged but never convicted for his alleged role in a 1974 bank robbery in which a janitor was shot to death.