PARIS — The state dropped arson and burglary charges against a Jay man who was supposed to begin his trial Monday.

James D. Burnell, 38, of 11 Intervale Road, had faced charges of arson, burglary and criminal trespass after a Canton home burned down on Jan. 7, 2008.

He was accused of burning down a 200-year-old, 2,000-square-foot house off Meadow View Road. The fire spread to nearby woods.

The home had belonged to Donald and Shirley LeSeur of Jay, who owned it for 55 years. They had used it seasonally and were not living there at the time of the fire.

Burnell was arraigned on the arson and burglary charges in April 2009. He pleaded not guilty. On Jan. 7, he entered a guilty plea to the criminal trespass charge and last week began a 60-day sentence.

The arson and burglary charges carried a combined maximum sentence of 50 years.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Burnell on the arson and burglary charges.

“Although we could definitely put him in the building,” O’Connor said, “we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he started the fire or that he entered the building with the intent to commit a crime.”

O’Connor said that a witness had seen Burnell at the residence, but it was the day before the fire.

“There had been other break-ins there,” O’Connor said.

According to a motion filed by Burnell’s defense attorney, George Hess, witnesses saw a group camping on the LeSeurs’ property around the time of the fire.

The motion says Burnell told the State Fire Marshal’s Office that he couldn’t account for the day in question. Burnell said his medication had run out and he was hearing voices.

Burnell had attempted to plea insanity in the incident, but O’Connor said that wasn’t a factor in dropping the charges.

On the night of the fire, Burnell stole a dump truck from Verso Paper and drove out with the dump body up, snapping power lines and a CMP pole in the process. The town of Jay lost electricity for more than two hours.

Before taking the dump truck, he started a pickup truck from the mill yard and drove it into a wooded area. Police said the keys had been left in both trucks.

When police responded, Burnell was still in the dump truck. He told police his name was James Hodges, and was transported to Franklin Memorial Hospital for injuries sustained in the crash.

Burnell pleaded guilty to two counts of theft in Franklin County for that incident and served two years.

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