LEWISTON — An Auburn man charged in a September fire that destroyed a historic Auburn home was indicted by an Androscoggin County grand jury on four arson charges Tuesday.
According to previous reporting, Justin M. Knight, 33, of 138 Spring St. was accused of setting the fire at a 10-room boarding house on Academy Street in the early morning of Sept. 30. The next morning, Knight was arrested at a nearby residence on an unrelated domestic violence charge.
The additional charges came after an investigation into the fire.
Knight lived near the historic building, but has no connection to it, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland wrote in a news release in October. “The fire apparently was random,” he noted.
McCausland said investigators believe Knight set two fires on the outside of the building and attempted to set two cars, parked nearby, on fire. The car fires were unsuccessful.
No injuries were reported.
Two fires were set at the 10-unit rooming house at 63 Academy St. in September, according to an affidavit by an investigator at the Office of the State Fire Marshal. In that report, a fire was discovered in a trash can on a rear porch. A second fire, “which caused significant damage to the home was discovered on a separate porch,” according to Isaiah Peppard, a law enforcement officer at the state agency.
He concluded the fires were intentionally set.
A neighbor told investigators that she heard a man behind the Academy Street home after smelling smoke. She could see the trash can on fire, but couldn’t make out a human figure because the lighting was poor. She heard someone dragging off the porch boards that had been stored there near the fire. The man answered his cellphone and began to yell, she said. The man then walked past her house, away from the home with the burning trash can. The man returned shortly after and walked past her house again to return to the rear of 63 Academy St.
The woman said she believed she saw a second fire coming from another part of the house, then saw decking of the home’s porch burning.
She called 911.
Two vehicles near 63 Academy St. also were damaged by fire, Peppard wrote. Both fires burned out before causing serious damage. In the gas tube of one, investigators found a partially burned dollar bill.
A woman who owned one of the cars told investigators that her granddaughters had encountered a “skinny and creepy-looking” man wearing a hoodie and holding a bottle. He approached them from the front of 63 Academy St. The girls’ grandmother told the man to leave, but he argued that he didn’t have to.
Later Sunday morning, after his arrest, Knight told investigators at Androscoggin County Jail that he had been drunk and admitted to setting the fires at Academy Street.
“Justin stated that he doesn’t know what he is doing when he starts fires,” according to Peppard’s affidavit. Knight said he didn’t know what caused him to start the fires.
“Justin told us that he saw the cardboard and just lit it on fire,” Peppard wrote. Knight said the cardboard had been under the porch. He drew a diagram for investigators of the two porches where the fires were started.
“Justin stated that after setting the cardboard on fire next thing he remembered was waking up beating” his girlfriend. He also was arrested Sunday morning and charged with domestic violence assault.
On Oct. 3, Knight appeared in 8th District Court and denied setting an unrelated blaze near Edward Little High School a year ago. In connection with that fire, Knight was charged with arson, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and with failing to control or report a dangerous fire, a misdemeanor. Knight pleaded not guilty to both charges.
Knight remains at the Androscoggin County Jail. His bail is posted at $75,000 cash or $150,000 real estate bond.
Justin Knight appears in 8th Lewiston District Court in Lewiston in October. Knight has been charged with arson after a blaze destroyed a home at 63 Academy St. in Auburn on Sunday morning. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)