State police began recording Jeffrey Alnutt’s cellphone calls the afternoon Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira held a news conference to identify him as a person of interest in the fatal December 2007 fire on Park Street in Gloversville.
More than a year after the fire, Sira gathered investigators and reporters on Jan. 30, 2008, to make her announcement and declare the fire an arson.
The 56-year-old Alnutt, who at that juncture was still trying to collect $307,000 in insurance money from State Farm, repeatedly called his independent insurance adjustor to fret about the news conference and the news coverage.
“They don’t have [expletive],” the adjustor reassured Alnutt, who related that his attorney at the time, Robert Abdella of Gloversville, advised him not to talk to police investigators who persisted in trying to interview him.
The recordings, played for the jury by state police Investigator John Dorn, were difficult to understand. Alnutt is heard in the conversations trying to understand the distinction between a person of interest and a suspect.
He is also heard joking with his adjustor that, at least, he had a good relationship with a bail bondsman in Albany.
The recordings, which both sides in the case acknowledge do not incriminate Alnutt, are scheduled to continue being played Monday in Fulton County Court. Dorn said state police recorded about 1,200 calls over two months allowed in a warrant. About 220 calls were deemed pertinent and transferred to a DVD for use by the prosecution.
Alnutt was indicted last summer on second-degree murder, manslaughter and arson charges for allegedly setting his apartment building ablaze shortly before midnight, Dec. 21, 2007. Second-floor tenant Debra Morris, who lived above Alnutt and his then-girlfriend, Amber Slaybaugh, died in the fire.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira told the jury in her opening statement that Alnutt ignited the fire with the help of gasoline and that gasoline residue was found on four items analyzed at the State Police Laboratory.
But witness accounts of where Alnutt was at key times the night of the fire are contradictory, and at the time the fire appears to have started he was in northern Mayfield looking for Slaybaugh at the home of her mother.
Dorn was preceded on the stand by State Farm Insurance Co. Investigator Sheila Pickett, who said she was assigned to the case Dec. 26, four days after the fire was extinguished.
Pickett said she interviewed Alnutt twice and found him “very jittery,” but a fire analysis company hired by State Farm could not determine the cause of the fire. Failure to find the cause was attributed to prior work at the fire scene by police investigators.
Alnutt told her the death of Morris was “very traumatic” for him.
State Farm, she said, never paid on the case because Alnutt never scheduled the second and final examination under oath required as part of his policy.