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Jury selection begins in Jay Street fire case

Jury selection begins in Jay Street fire case

Opening statements not likely until at least Wednesday
Jury selection begins in Jay Street fire case
Kenneth Tyree enters a Schenectady County courtroom for a pre-trial hearing.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

SCHENECTADY — Jury selection began Monday in the criminally negligent homicide trial of a former city building inspector, but opening statements aren't expected until Wednesday, at the earliest.

Efforts on Monday focused on working through the pool of potential jurors to narrow it to those who would be capable of serving for the expected four-to-six-week trial, officials said.

No jurors were selected Monday. That work is expected to begin Tuesday.

Kenneth Tyree, 53, of Schenectady, faces four counts each of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide — one for each of the four people who died in the massive March 2015 Jay Street blaze. He also faces other charges.

Tyree is accused of failing to act on dangers he observed when he inspected the structure at 104 Jay St., an inspection that occurred the day before the accidental March 6, 2015, fire destroyed the structure.

He faces 5 to 15 years in state prison, if convicted. He previously rejected a plea offer that would have resulted in a year in jail. He maintains his innocence. 

Prosecutor Michael DeMatteo has not commented on the case. Tyree's attorney, Mark Gaylord, has repeated earlier defense assertions that Tyree lacked proper training to inspect the Jay Street building's fire alarm system and that Tyree did everything asked of him.

Judge Matthew Sypniewski is presiding.

Prosecutors have said signs of a malfunction in the fire alarm box, as well as Tyree's observations about fire doors, showed conscious disregard for the risks posed and that Tyree lied when he said he saw indications that the system was operational. 

An inoperable fire alarm alone, they said, should have resulted in an evacuation or "fire watch," and prosecutors believe the system hadn't been operational for more than a month before the fire.

Killed in the fire were Harry Simpson, 59; Robert Thomas, 31; Jermaine Allen, 37; and Berenices Suarez, 33. Dozens of others were injured.

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