GREENFIELD — Minutes before a man accused of burning down his Greenfield home was set to plead guilty to the crime, he told a judge he had changed his mind and wants to take his case to trial.
Dalton Rowe, 24, of Greenfield, was charged with arson in November after police said he burned down the house in the 300 block of North Swope Street that he shared with his girlfriend and young son, court documents state.
Wednesday, Rowe was scheduled to accept a plea agreement from prosecutors. Instead, he told Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow he disagreed with the terms laid out in the deal he signed earlier this month.
Rowe asked the judge to take the case to trial and appoint him a new public defender. Snow granted the defendant’s request for a trial but denied his request for a new attorney.
Before Rowe took his seat at the defendant’s table, he could be overheard in the courtroom telling his attorney, John Merlau of New Palestine, he’d had a change of heart; he didn’t want to serve so many years for something he felt was an accident, he said.
Rowe set the fire on Thanksgiving Day, while his girlfriend and son were celebrating the holiday elsewhere with relatives, court documents state.
After the fire was ruled an arson, a handful of witnesses came forward to report Rowe had admitted to starting the blaze, police said.
Rowe and his girlfriend were separated at the time of the fire. She told police she had asked Rowe to move out of the Swope Street home, and he was living with friends a few streets over in Greenfield, court documents state.
Those friends told police Rowe visited the home on Thanksgiving Day and returned saying he’d “just burnt his house down,” court records state.
Rowe’s girlfriend told police he confided in her days after the fire that he had poured lighter fluid on the bedroom floor and ignited it.
Investigators checked the city’s security camera footage around the time of the fire and spotted a silver sedan — believed to be Rowe’s 2000 Mercury Cougar — driving to and from the house, court records state.
The car can be seen driving away from Swope Street at 12:04 p.m., four minutes before the first 911 call came about the burning house, records state.
No one was injured in the blaze, but the house was considered a total loss. Rowe’s girlfriend and young son had to stay with relatives.
Wednesday’s turn of events came as a surprise to prosecutors, but Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he believes the case investigators have built against Rowe is strong enough to convict him at trial.
Rowe faces at Level 4 felony charge of arson, which carries a penalty of two to 12 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
A new trial date had not been set at press time.