FORT EDWARD -- The former Salem man charged with manslaughter in the deaths of six people in a home explosion refused a plea deal offer Friday, and two relatives of victims were happy he did.
Steven McComsey rebuffed a plea offer that would require him to plead guilty to a felony and serve a state prison sentence of 1 to 3 years. Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan scheduled pretrial hearings for Oct. 24, and also significantly reduced McComsey’s bail during Friday’s hearing.
Afterward, the mother of one of the victims and uncle of another criticized the plea deal offer, saying it was too lenient. Linda Porlier, mother of 19-year-old victim Clarissa Porlier, said she was not consulted about it by the Washington County District Attorney’s Office.
“I’m glad he didn’t take it,” Porlier said. “It’s ridiculous they’d even offer him 1 to 3. It’s not even a year for each person that died.”
Butch Hurlburt, uncle of 41-year-old victim Tammy Palmer, echoed her comments, calling the plea offer “a slap for all the people who died.” Palmer was McComsey’s girlfriend.
“I’m glad he didn’t take the deal,” Hurlburt said.
Hurlburt also offered the first hint of a potential motive for McComsey to have allowed propane gas to accumulate in the home.
He said McComsey was jealous that Palmer’s children lived with them because he “wanted her all to himself.”
“He didn’t want to share Tammy with those kids,” Hurlburt said. “I don’t think he meant to blow the house up, he meant to burn it down.”
McComsey did not speak during the five-minute hearing, but his lawyer, Washington County Public Defender Michael Mercure, informed the judge the plea offer was not acceptable.
After the hearing, Kortright would not discuss the case nor the comments from victims’ relatives.
McComsey, 34, of Johnsburg, has pleaded not guilty to six counts of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless endangerment, all felonies, in the July 13, 2011, explosion at the 4383 Route 29 home he rented.
Killed by the explosion were Palmer and Clarissa Porlier; Darrell Durham, 20; Durham’s 2-month-old daughter, Niah Lynn Durham; Lawrence Berg II, 19; and Robert Sanford, 16. McComsey and four others were injured.
State Police said the explosion was traced to propane gas that accumulated in the home’s basement after it was released from a spare tank behind the house and ignited by a spark from a water pump.
Mercure has made a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing the evidence is insufficient to support them. McKeighan said he held off ruling on the motion while discussions about a plea deal were going on.
“I believe we raised compelling arguments on the motion and the indictment should be dismissed because of legal insufficiency,” Mercure said. “If the motion is not successful, we’re very confident in trying the case.”
McKeighan reduced McComsey’s bail to $5,000 cash or $10,000 bail bond. It had been set at $10,000 cash or $50,000 bail bond for more than three months.
No explanation was given for the reduction, which was requested by Mercure, although McKeighan pointed out he had finished reviewing the grand jury minutes. But the bail reduction, following the judge’s review of the grand jury minutes, could be seen as a sign he believes there are problems with the case, since it increases the chance McComsey will be released from jail before trial.
McComsey would have to be confined under house arrest if released on bail. He had not posted bail as of late Friday afternoon, but Mercure said he believed his client would be able to post the bond.
Kortright said Mercure notified county officials that McComsey would have an address with a landline telephone that could be used for an electronic monitoring device and Kortright believes that played a part in the bail reduction.
Trial in the case is scheduled for early December.
Hurlburt said he initially wasn’t sure of McComsey’s guilt, but State Police sat down with him recently and reviewed the case and he came away convinced.
“When the trial comes around in December, we’re going to see real culpability,” Hurlburt said.