Piano arsonist gets year in jail

"A man accused of setting his housemate’s rare and expensive Steinway piano ablaze in October will likely spend 13 months in jail, after agreeing last week to be convicted on a second-degree arson charge.Edward D. Walker, 26, entered an “Alford plea” on the charge Tuesday in Kitsap County Superior Court. He’ll be formally sentenced Feb. 14, but signed papers agreeing to a sentence in the midpoint of the standard sentencing range of 12 to 14 months, according to court reports.In entering the plea, Walker essentially refused to admit his guilt but accepted that evidence brought against would likely lead to a conviction had the case gone to trial.Previously convicted of aggravated arson and aggravated attempted murder in his native Ohio in 1993, Walker had been living in the Agate Point Road home of master piano restorer Oberdah Manteufel since January.The charge stems from an Oct. 25 incident in which Walker allegedly set fire to four of Manteufel’s prized pianos.They included a hand-built 1876 Steinway Centennial, one of only three in existence worldwide, for which Manteufel said he recently received a $1.5 million offer from the Music Society of New York.Walker, who had evacuated Manteufel’s 91-year-old step-parents before the blaze, was arrested at a nearby intersection shortly after Manteufel, who had been out of town, arrived home and extinguished the flames. Walker had been caring for Manteufel’s step-parents in exchange for living expenses. However, according to court reports, Manteufel and Walker “had a number of disagreements over the previous two weeks.” They included Walker’s desire to entertain friends in the house, as well as his constant requests for Manteufel’s money. Manteufel, the reports said, usually gave Walker whatever sums he requested, but on the night of the fire had turned down the other man’s plea for $20.“Walker (said) that he wanted to show the owner of the house that if he didn’t have the house, he wouldn’t have control over him,” a Bainbridge Police report stated.Walker’s comments to police, in which he directly admitted setting the fire, became an issue at Tuesday’s hearing. His attorney, Ramona Brandes, argued that Walker was taken into custody and interrogated before being advised of his Miranda suspect rights.Any evidence gathered thereafter, she reasoned, should be regarded as “fruit of the poisonous tree” and summarily dismissed.The plea arrangement, deputy prosecutor Kevin Hull said, came as a compromise. If the confession was struck down during a trial, he said, Walker might have walked free. If the confession was upheld, however, Walker could have been convicted of first-degree arson, which carries a standard sentencing range of 31 to 41 months.The deal allowed the confession to stand and allowed Walker to enter the Alford plea on the lesser charge.Manteufel, meanwhile, said “this emotional, volatile thing” has prompted him to sell his house and plan a pending move away from Bainbridge. He added, however, that the damage to the Steinway Centennial was not as severe as originally thought and that the piano would be eventually restored.“The piano certainly was destroyed as a playing instrument,” he said. “But if you looked at it, you wouldn’t be able to tell it had been damaged.”"

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