Man Will Stand Trial In Deadly Arson-for-hire Plot In Scranton
SCRANTON — A district judge ruled today that Lackawanna County prosecutors have enough evidence to send a man to trial as a player in an arson-for-hire plot in Scranton that had deadly consequences last summer.
Magisterial District Judge John P. Pesota ordered Chad Kenowski, 50, to stand trial on charges including second-degree murder after a roughly 3 ½ hour preliminary hearing.
The plot involved setting fire to Kenowski’s home at 52 Roosevelt St. in Scranton on June 25 to collect on the insurance money but something went wrong. Brett Sweeting Jr., 26, died in the fire caused by the gasoline he doused throughout the home, authorities believe. His body, badly charred, was found in the home next to a plastic can of gasoline, matches and keys to the house, Inspector Martin Monahan, the city’s fire marshal, testified. Authorities quickly determined the fire was no accident.
The 26-year-old’s father and getaway driver, Brett Sweeting Sr., took off while his son burned inside the home, police said. Police tied him to the crime using cell phone records. Sweeting Sr., 53, of Williamsport, also charged with second-degree murder and related arson offenses, waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday.
The home had been on and off the real estate market for approximately four years. It originally had been listed at about $300,000 but Kenowski had recently entered into a sales agreement for $165,000. After the fire, an insurance adjuster determined damages at more than $300,000.
Among the evidence presented today was an approximately 20-minute long recording, surreptitiously taped by a close friend of Sweeting Jr. cooperating with police. In the recording, Kenowski seems to acknowledge that the arson was a plot to collect on the insurance. The police’s witness approached Kenowski under the guise of imploring him to make sure that Sweeting Jr.’s family gets the money he was owed.
Monahan recounted passages from the transcript where the witness said, “You and I both know this is a fire for insurance fraud.” Kenowski agreed.
Kenowski’s attorney, Joseph D’Andrea, argued that other statements Kenowski made cleared his client of the most serious charge, second-degree murder as an accomplice. D’Andrea argued that there was no evidence that Kenowski aided anyone during the crime nor did he solicit anyone to commit the crime. He said the transcript of the recording is peppered with Kenowski saying, “I told him not to do it.”
“He cuts ties with those statements,” D’Andrea said.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Gallagher argued that the totality of the transcript, just one piece of their evidence, says otherwise. He also cited a state Superior Court decision concluding that an accomplice can be responsible for the death of a co-conspirator even if he or she is not present for the crime.
After the hearing, Pesota denied D’Andrea’s request to set bail, so Kenowski remains lodged in the Lackawanna County Prison without the possibility of bond.
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