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Former FF/EMT sentenced for arson

He was convicted of setting several fires at multi-occupancy dwellings in 2013 and received four to 14 years in prison

By Brian Early
The Foster’s Daily Democrat

DOVER, N.H. — Former Peterborough on-call firefighter and EMT Gregory Potter was sentenced Friday in Strafford County Superior Court to 4 to 14 years in state prison for the string of fires he set in Durham on a winter night in 2013.

Potter also received a 1- to 4-year state prison sentence that Judge Steven Houran suspended for good behavior for five years. The suspended sentence begins after Potter successfully completes the 4- to 14-year sentence.

In February, a jury convicted Potter of five counts of felony arson for starting fires on the night Feb. 2, 2013 and three counts of criminal mischief. Houran sentenced Potter to one year in the House of Corrections for each of the criminal mischief charges. Houran said these sentences would be concurrent with his arson prison sentence.

Potter was awarded with 182 days of pretrial confinement. Houran also allowed Potter to reduce his prison sentence through earning time credit for the successful completion of prison-offered programs.

By state law, both the prosecutors and defense can appeal the sentences to a state prison review board in the next 30 days. In the review process, the panel of judges can increase, decrease or keep the same sentence imposed.

Strafford County Deputy Attorney Alysia Cassotis, who asked for a 12 1/2 - to 25-year state prison sentence, was unsure if the state will ask for a review of the sentence, which she said she respectfully disagrees with.

“That’s a discussion we’ll have,” she said.

Potter’s defense attorney, Timothy Harrington, argued for a 1- to 5-year sentence in prison with a 5- to 10-year prison sentence suspended for 10 years for good behavior. Potter was facing a total 37 1/2 to 75 years on the arson charges.

During the sentencing hearing, Cassotis said it was “difficult to put a number on a crime,” especially for a person with no criminal history like Potter. But because he lit a fire out of anger and continued to light more fires in dense areas that put other people in danger, Potter should be given a strict sentence, she said.

After setting the first fire, Potter then set four more on a frigid night in February.

“He could have stopped then, but he didn’t,” she said.

The fires Potter set were to multi-unit dwellings that could have easily created substantial bodily injuries and possible death, Cassotis said, not only for the residents, but for first responders as well. Indeed, a firefighter and police officer both slipped and injured themselves on ice created from the water used to extinguish the fires, she said.

On top of that, Potter should have known the danger he put other people in because he is a trained firefighter.

“It was revenge-motivated,” Cassotis said.

Harrington disputed the revenge motivation.

“This is not a revenge-motivated crime,” he said, pointing to trial testimony from residents of 15 Main Street, where Potter set the first fire. Harrington said residents from Main Street testified they didn’t have issues with Potter and basically had no hard feelings toward him.

Cassotis objected to that assertion. Potter was there earlier in the evening, but then not welcomed back.

Potter buys a lighter, “and seven minutes later lights a mattress on fire,” she said. “If it’s not revenge-driven, why does he start there?”

Houran agreed with Cassotis in his ruling.

“I did believe that he did go back with revenge in mind,” Houran said.

A number of people spoke on Potter’s behalf, including Potter’s father, mother and brother, as well as his Boy Scout leader, a former employer and a former coach.

"(Potter) has a very strong moral compass,” said his father, James Potter, about his son. He argued that his son should “pay the debt necessary, but not an excessive degree.”


(c)2015 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)

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