Man pleads guilty to arson


GREENFIELD — A Greenfield man will spend four years in prison after pleading guilty to arson, admitting he set the blaze that destroyed his Greenfield home last Thanksgiving.

Dalton Rowe, 25, whose address on current court records is listed as 3832 E. County Road 200N, was arrested in December after investigators determined he burned down the home he was renting in the 300 block of North Swope Street in Greenfield.

Rowe pleaded guilty to a Level 4 felony count of arson recently in Hancock County Superior Court 1 after accepting a plea agreement from prosecutors. He was sentenced Wednesday to spend four years in a department of correction facility followed by three years on probation, during which he’ll spend half the time in a local work release program and the other on home detention.

Though Rowe was sentenced to 12 years, he won’t be incarcerated or undergo any sort of monitoring for the remaining five years, officials said. Should he commit another crime while in prison or serving his probation, Rowe will be required to serve 12 years behind bars, Prosecutor Brent Eaton said.

Rowe was living in the home on Swope Street with his girlfriend and their young son. The couple was going through a break-up when the fire occurred, officials said, and Rowe had been staying with a friend in Greenfield in the days leading up the fire.

On Thanksgiving morning, Rowe visited the Swope Street home and returned to his friends home, saying he’d “just burnt his house down,” the friend told police, court records state. A few minutes later, the friend heard sirens and saw smoke coming from the direction of the Swope Street home, according to court records.

The fire was immediately deemed suspicious, and Greenfield Police Department detectives along with investigators from the Greenfield Fire Territory were called to look into what might have caused the blaze. They quickly determined it was arson, investigators said.

No one was injured, but the fire left Rowe’s girlfriend and their child without a place to live. Most of their belongings were destroyed, as well. The community rallied behind the woman and her young son in the days following the blaze, collecting more than $1,000 to help her buy new clothing, furniture and toys.

The plea agreement Rowe accepted this week was the second such document filed in the case, records show.

In February, minutes before he was set to plead guilty to the crime, Rowe told a judge he had changed his mind and wanted to take his case to trial. He also requested that the judge appoint him a new attorney. Details about the original plea agreement penned by prosecutors and Rowe’s first attorney, John Merlau of New Palestine, were never released.

In September, a few weeks before Rowe’s case was set to go to trial, Rowe, under the guidance of attorney Cody Coombs of Greenfield, accepted a second plea agreement Wednesday – one local investigators say they were frustrated with.

Greenfield Fire Marshal Brian Lott, who led the fire department’s portion of the investigation, said he wished the deal had called for Rowe to serve more time in a correctional facility.

Lott said he believed the evidence collected by police and fire crews was solid enough to be put in front of a jury. If found guilty at trial, Rowe likely would have spent a full 12 years behind bars.

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 Swope Street 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.

Officials said Rowe likely started the fire on the front porch and used some sort of accelerant to ensure the flames spread quickly.

Rowe’s girlfriend told police he’d admitted to setting the blaze, telling her he’d poured lighter butane fluid on the bedroom floor and ignited it, according to court documents.

Eaton said Rowe’s sentence is the second longest for a arson conviction that the county has seen in the last 10 years.