Jul 31, 2015 11:31 PM
Former Peterborough firefighter sentenced to 4 to 14 years in prison for arson
DOVER - Arsonist Gregory Potter, who once served as a firefighter and EMT in Peterborough, was sentenced to four to 14 years in prison Friday.
Potter, 23, set fire to five multi-unit housing structures in Durham in the early morning of Feb. 2, 2013, nearly killing three people sleeping at 4 Smith Park Lane, where a barn, apartment and three vehicles were damaged as Potter watched the fire spread - even taking a picture on his cell phone.
Potter decided to start the fires after becoming belligerently drunk. He was visiting friends at the University of New Hampshire, but was no longer a student there.
Prior to that night's events, Potter had been in arguments with students who lived at 15 Main Street. Before getting thrown out of a party there, a computer printer mysteriously burst into flames. And on his birthday, Potter discharged a fire extinguisher on four vehicles outside the residence.
Potter's defense attorney, Timothy Harrington, said by the time of the fires, there were no harsh feelings between the parties.
But Deputy County Attorney Alysia Cassotis maintains Potter went to the Circle K, bought a lighter, and snuck into the back of 15 Main Street to set a mattress on fire. She says Potter was still angry at the residents living in the house, and wanted to burn the house down.
In his drunken state, Potter decided to keep going, Cassotis told Judge Steven Houran Friday.
"Mr. Potter could have stopped there, but he didn't," Cassotis said, as she argued for 25 years in prison.
Potter set fire to 6, 19 and 20 Main Street before ending his reign of terror at 4 Smith Park Lane, where hay being stored underneath the barn created large flames and started to engulf the building.
During the trial, fire crews and police testified to the chaos in Durham that early morning, as they responded to three of the fires. The two others never caught on.
On Friday, Harrington asked Houran to impose a one to five year prison sentence, with up to 11 years suspended, saying Potter was an Eagle Scout who experimented with alcohol prior to this event.
Potter's mother was one of seven people to talk on his behalf. She asked for home confinement, saying prison will destroy her boy.
"My heart is broken over this situation," Patty Potter said.
Most of the people in the packed courtroom were there to support Potter, but there was representation for Durham police and fire as well. Durham Fire Chief Corey Landry spoke passionately, even becoming emotional about the case, saying Potter purposely lit structures on fire near their doorways.
"It strikes close to home. It's an insult to the fire service as a whole when a firefighter turns into an arsonist," Landry told NH1 News outside of the courtroom, adding, "He just shows no remorse."
Houran took some time to go over the case law presented by Cassotis and Harrington, then returned to the courtroom with his decision. In addition to the four to 14 year prison sentence, Houran imposed a three to 12 year suspended sentence and ordered restitution be paid to the victims.
After the sentencing hearing, property owner Arthur Klaeson, who owns 4 Smith Park Lane, was fit to be tied. One of Klaeson's closest friends was sleeping in the barn with his girlfriend on the night of the fires.
"My faith in the criminal justice system has certainly been damaged, let's say," Klaeson told NH1 News. "I don't know anybody who's committed five aggravated Class A felonies while endangering somebody's lives, getting a slap on the wrist like four years."
Since Potter was taken into custody after being found guilty in February of this year, he will likely be out in three-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, Klaeson's barn and apartment can never be rebuilt, due to town rules, he said.
Follow Kimberley Haas on Twitter @KHaasNH1.