Second arsonist pleads

So far, two of the four teenage defendants in the Grand View arson case – Cameron MacArthur and Erick Rodriguez – have pleaded guilty to charges related to burning down the home of William Rowland last summer, causing an estimated $300,000 in damage.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff said this week that he expects 18-year-old Julious Caesar Lucas of Boston to also plead guilty next Thursday (March 27), his scheduled trial date.

In court March 1 before Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker, 17-year-old Erick Xavier Rodriguez of Boston took a long, deep breath before rising to plead guilty to five felonies and two misdemeanors stemming from the Aug. 20 break-in and arson, which was followed by an early morning manhunt. Rodriguez will be sentenced in May, and so will 18-year-old Amissville codefendant MacArthur, the only one of the four offered a plea deal.

Rodriguez, charged as an adult and held since last August at Loudoun County Juvenile Detention Center,  wore black dress pants and shirt and leg shackles. Goff told Parker that no plea agreement was offered on the seven charges to which Rodriguez intended to plead guilty. Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Smith looked on from the back of the courtroom as Rodriguez quietly pleaded to each of the charges in succession.

Before accepting pleas, Parker recounted the sentencing guidelines for each charge: He said the burglary charge carries five to 20 years in prison; arson, five years to life; conspiracy to commit arson and conspiracy to commit burglary, one to 10 years each; destruction of property, one to five years; each of the two misdemeanors, 12 months in jail. All of the felony sentences would be served in a state penitentiary, Parker said, reminding Rodriguez that since Virginia is a “no parole” state, he must serve at least 85 percent of those sentences.

Goff then read the evidence against Rodriguez, most of it derived from a Jan. 6 sworn statement by MacArthur made in the company of the commonwealth’s attorney and RCSO investigator Capt. J.C. Welch.

Goff said that on Aug. 20, 2011, Rodriguez and 18-year-olds Lucas, MacArthur and Benjamin Thomas Hale began driving around, drinking whiskey after midnight. Hale said he knew a place to  party, Goff said. The four broke into the Rowland weekend cabin through a side window, the prosecutor said, stole beer from a refrigerator downstairs and went to an upstairs bedroom to drink. Goff said that they brought up a microwave from the kitchen to cook burritos. By this point, Goff said Rodriguez was extremely intoxicated and fell, breaking a dresser mirror in the bedroom.

Then, Goff recounted, Lucas told his companions that since they’d trashed the house, all four were facing breaking and entering and property damage charges, and that they could cover their tracks by burning it down; the other three agreed.

The four went outside to two outbuildings to look for accelerants, Goff said, and found gasoline, weedeater oil mixtures and other fuels, reentering the house through the same window. They also found some insect spray in a closet downstairs, he added. The boys doused sheets and pieces of furniture with the accelerants, and arranged items of furniture to help the fire spread quickly, Goff said. They lit the fire, he said, and then exited the house and got into a Honda sedan, with Lucas driving.

Goff said Lucas turned the wrong way onto the dead-end Grand View Road, then wrecked into a embankment at the cul-de-sac. They tried to drive away in the vehicle, the prosecutor said, but were only able to make it a few hundred yards before they ditched it and ran into the woods.

Goff then presented before-and-after pictures of Rowland’s house (after the fire subsided, only the chimney stood), and the signed confession by Cameron MacArthur.

Parker set Rodriguez’s sentencing for May 14.