A city man who admitted to trying to burn his apartment by putting propane tanks in the kitchen stove couldn’t say why he did it, and that concerned the judge presiding over his case.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago formally sentenced Jason Salisbury to six years in prison Wednesday, after he pleaded guilty earlier to one count of second-degree attempted arson.
During the sentencing, she referenced a pre-sentencing investigation, which included an interview with the probation department.
“Although you admitted your guilt, you were still not able to articulate your reason for setting the fire that put your family in jeopardy,” Drago told Salisbury. “That causes this court great concern.”
She ordered Salisbury to be screened for various programs while in prison, including any mental health programs available.
The arson attempt not only put others in jeopardy, but it also led to four members of Salisbury’s family and his girlfriend facing their own criminal charges for allegedly trying to cover for him. Two of the four have already pleaded guilty to related charges and face probation. Charges against the other two remain pending.
Though Salisbury couldn’t articulate his reasons, prosecutors were set to argue at trial that the scheme was aimed at getting himself into a better apartment by burning his old one.
No one was hurt in the July 2011 fire at Salisbury’s 623 Brandywine Ave., apartment. But at the time Salisbury started the fire, there were people living in the upstairs apartment. Salisbury also was accused of leaving his two dogs behind to die. The dogs were uninjured.
Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze and concluded it was intentionally set.
A quick 911 call helped get firefighters to the scene before the fire could spread, resulting in minimal damage to the building. One witness tried to enter the apartment before firefighters arrived in an attempt to get the dogs out, prosecutor John Healy has said.
Investigators believe Salisbury thought he would receive help from the Red Cross after the fire and that that help could lead to him moving up the waiting list at an apartment complex. As it turned out, the fire ended up being small enough that he and the other residents were back in the same apartment shortly after the blaze, Healy has said.
Investigators quickly realized the fire had been intentionally set when they discovered propane tanks inside the apartment’s stove, which had been turned on. Safety mechanisms on the tanks prevented an explosion inside the oven, Healy said, but the fire resulted from those mechanisms venting gas.
Of the others accused of covering for Salisbury, none were accused of knowing about the scheme beforehand. The four are accused of telling investigators Salisbury was visiting his father in the hospital at the time of the fire.
Salisbury’s mother, Jessica Bender, 50, and sister, Amanda Salisbury, 27, each have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor perjury and face probation. Charges against his girlfriend, Amanda Stabile, 21, and his father, Alfred Salisbury, 60, are pending.
Drago went forward with Jason Salisbury’s sentencing despite a request from defense attorney Steve Signore for a delay so Salisbury could complete his studies locally for a GED. Drago denied the request, saying she didn’t want to start making such delays a practice. The judge, however, did tell Salisbury she hoped he would continue his studies while in state prison and she was confident he could get the diploma there.