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Jury acquits Sharpsburg man accused of setting fire to foreclosed home

Max Eugene Godlove found not guilty of first- and second-degree arson, second-degree malicious burning of property, threatening arson and reckless endangerment

April 03, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Godlove
Godlove

A Sharpsburg man accused of setting fire to his foreclosed home was acquitted Wednesday in Washington County Circuit Court of arson after a two-day trial in which several witnesses testified they saw him passed out at a picnic table at about the time the fire started.

A jury deliberated about half an hour before finding Max Eugene Godlove, 50, not guilty of first- and second-degree arson, second-degree malicious burning of property, threatening arson and reckless endangerment.

Godlove’s Remsburg Road home had been foreclosed upon and the deed held by Fannie Mae since June 2011, although he still lived in the house when it was destroyed by fire on Sept. 21, 2012, according to trial testimony.

“On the day of the fire, Max Godlove was so intoxicated, he was passed out at a picnic table,” defense attorney Susan Lochbaum said Tuesday in her opening statement.

On Wednesday, defense witnesses, including his estranged wife, son and a neighbor, testified he was passed out or about to pass out shortly before the fire was spotted.

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Lochbaum, who represented Godlove with attorney John Salvatore, said the state had no motive and no physical evidence that Godlove set the fire, and prosecution witness Timothy Smith was “not worthy of your belief.”

In her opening statement, Assistant State’s Attorney Michele Hansen said Smith would testify he was outside the house and saw Godlove inside smashing windows and then using what appeared to be a lighter to set the fire.

Smith testified he had lived in Godlove’s home for about six months, but denied he had been evicted by him on the day of the fire.

“Probably about a six-pack or 12-pack of beer. It wasn’t very much,” Smith testified when Hansen asked him how much Godlove had to drink earlier in the day.

Smith testified that toward evening, he saw Godlove smashing the windows and saw him “through a bedroom window flicking a lighter.”

Smith told investigators that Godlove at one point went back into the burning house to retrieve beer and cigars, according to charging documents.

Smith and his father, Reuben, both testified they previously heard Godlove say he would burn his house if forced to move out.

However, defense witnesses James and Judy Prevatt, Godlove’s neighbors, testified Smith told them on the day of the fire that he was mad enough at Godlove to burn his house down.

“He said he was so mad, he could burn it down himself,” testified Godlove’s son, Jacob, who also was present when Smith spoke to the Prevatts.

In his closing argument, Salvatore said there were three possible scenarios for how the fire started — Max Godlove set it, it was an accident or Smith set the fire.

“There’s as much evidence here for Tim Smith setting the fire as there is for Max Godlove,” Salvatore told the jury.

The fire investigation was flawed and Godlove being charged was based on statements Tim and Reuben Smith made to fire marshals a few days later.

“Did he think they were going to accuse him?” Salvatore asked the jury. He theorized Smith, who had a criminal record and mental health issues, contacted authorities to divert attention away from himself.

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