Jeffrey Alnutt will remain in prison for arson and second-degree murder after his convictions were upheld by an appeals court Thursday.
In 2007, Alnutt, now 60, set fire to one of his properties on Park Street in Gloversville with 39-year-old Debra Morris, a second-floor tenant, still inside. Morris initially escaped but died while returning to her apartment to rescue her cat.
Three years later, Alnutt was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison and promptly appealed the conviction. Thursday, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court found Alnutt’s appeal to be without merit.
“Simply put,” the decision stated, “we discern no basis upon which to disturb the sentence imposed by County Court.”
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira said she was pleased with the court’s ruling.
“Alnutt’s blatant disregard for the life of Deborah Morris ... clearly demonstrates his callous, narcissistic personality and criminal propensity,” she said in a statement released Thursday. “He is where he needs to be, in state prison to ensure public safety.”
Alnutt’s appeal was largely based on the argument that his trial hinged on circumstantial evidence. Witness statements putting him at the Park Street home with a gas can on the night it burned down came from neighbors looking through windows late at night.
Further, another witness put Alnutt in Mayfield a few minutes before the fire was reported, calling into question whether he had time to both set the fire and make the trip.
“Although the defendant is correct in noting that this was a circumstantial case,” the decision stated, “the proof against him nonetheless was compelling,”
Court papers filed after Thursday’s decision listed substantial evidence backing the original conclusion in Fulton County Court, including taped phone conversations, fire investigators’ testimony, Alnutt’s desperate financial situation and his history with arson.
The appeal claimed detectives investigating the fire did not follow correct protocol in obtaining an eavesdropping warrant. Alnutt also contended the jury in his 2010 trial should not have been allowed to inquire about a previous bail-jumping conviction.
The appellate court rejected all claims.
Alnutt will continue serving 25 years to life for second-degree murder and arson, along with a concurrent term for a previous arson conviction.
In the midst of the legal process surrounding the Park Street fire, Alnutt was found guilty of burning down another of his properties for a $200,000 insurance payout in 2004. He appealed the earlier conviction as well, but that was also upheld.