Former NY volunteer firefighter convicted of arson
A four-day trial, the Ulster County Court jury on Thursday found Michael Watzka Jr., 30, of East Kingston, guilty of third-degree arson
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.
KINGSTON, N.Y. — An Ulster County jury has convicted a volunteer firefighter on arson charges in fires that destroyed an abandoned church and an abandoned garage in East Kingston, prosecutors said.
Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright said that following a four-day trial, the Ulster County Court jury on Thursday found Michael Watzka Jr., 30, of East Kingston, guilty of third-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief, felonies, and misdemeanor arson.
Carnright said Watzka, at the time a volunteer with the East Kingston Fire Department, was the first responder at the scene of the Feb. 22, 2018, fire at a garage at 114 John St., and the night of Feb. 24, 2018, at the former church at 61 Brigham St., less than a block away. Both fires were called in about 11:30 p.m. on those days.
Prosecutors said the garage was next to the home of Watzka's girlfriend, and that he had told her and other friends that he wanted "to burn those two buildings" to create "a clear line of sight" between her home and his home a few blocks away on Main Street.
Prosecutors said Watzka told friends that wrapping duct tape around your shoes would conceal footprints, prosecutors said. According to prosecutors, the Ulster County Arson Task Force found a beer bottle with DNA that matched Watzka's near the first fire, and after reviewing video showing Watzka reaching into a trash can, investigators found duct tape inside that, although crumpled, had a chevron footprint pattern. Footprints that appeared to have a duct tape pattern were found near the first fire, officials said.
Watzka remains in Ulster County Jail awaiting sentencing on Sept. 6. He faces up to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Clifford Owens prosecuted the case with Assistant District Attorney Jarrid Blades, in front of Judge Donald Williams. Public Defender Russell Schindler represented Watzka.
©2019 The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y.