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DA: Key chain links suspect to arson

Key chain found at the home of Stewart’s mother; Lewis left it in the kitchen before fire in Pittston.

Stewart

WILKES-BARRE – Prosecutors believe a Scooby-Doo key chain and an adopted brother who waited more than a month before going to authorities link Shawn Stewart to setting a fire that severely damaged his ex-girlfriend’s apartment in Pittston.

“The evidence points to one person and that person is Shawn Stewart,” said Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Timothy Doherty after Stewart’s preliminary hearing in Central Court on Friday.

Stewart’s defense lawyer, Charles Ross, said the only evidence prosecutors have is that a fire had been set.

“(Stewart) didn’t set this fire. There’s no physical evidence against my client,” Ross said.

Stewart, 19, faces trial in Luzerne County Court for setting the June 29 fire at 266 S. Main St., an apartment building owned by Thomas McCormack. Arson and related charges were bound over for trial by District Judge Fred Pierantoni, who heard nearly two hours of testimony on Friday.

Prosecutors believe Stewart set the fire because Heather Lewis, 21, was with another man that night.

Lewis and her boyfriend, Ray Dziewit, 25, escaped the flames by climbing onto the front porch roof. They were saved by two National Guardsmen who were patrolling the Wyoming Valley because the Susquehanna River was flooding at that time.

Dziewit said he suffered second-degree burns after pushing Lewis onto the roof.

Stewart kept his head down as Lewis, who sobbed while on the stand, testified that she lost everything in the fire except for a partially burned identification card.

A few weeks after the fire, Lewis said Stewart asked her to stop at his mother’s house on Lagrange Street, Pittston, to pick up instant lottery tickets. When she did, Lewis said she found her Scooby-Doo key chain and keys under a couch. Lewis said when she saw the key chain she realized that Stewart may have been in the house that night.

Lewis said she had a habit of hanging the key chain in her kitchen after coming home every day. The kitchen was on the opposite side of her apartment that was unreachable because of flames in a hallway, Lewis said.

Stewart’s adopted brother, Jonathan Stewart, 19, testified that Shawn admitted to breaking into Lewis’ apartment and hiding under a baby’s crib. Jonathan said Shawn feared that his legs were seen by McCormack.

Jonathan Stewart said his adopted brother admitted sometime around the end of August or early September to setting the fire. Jonathan met with authorities on Oct. 3.

“An anonymous call was made to Pittston police that Shawn admitted to me that he set the fire,” Jonathan Stewart testified.

Within hours of Jonathan Stewart giving authorities a statement, Shawn Stewart was arrested for the arson.

McCormack said he entered Lewis’ apartment after seeing garbage cans and wood piled up to a second-floor rear window. Knowing that Shawn Stewart had entered Lewis’ apartment that way before, McCormack said he searched her apartment but didn’t see anyone.

McCormack said he was in a first-floor apartment when Lewis, Dziewit and five of their friends invited him upstairs at about 11:30 p.m. on June 28. McCormack said he was the last to leave at about 1:15 a.m., but Lewis and Dziewit separately testified that McCormack left sometime between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m. at the latest.

Stewart told a Times Leader reporter in a jailhouse interview on Wednesday that he walked past Lewis’ apartment at about 1:45 a.m. and saw McCormack’s white truck next to the building. He said he then walked to a nearby store and purchased a soda before walking to his mother’s house where he waited until 2:30 a.m.

As Stewart was walking toward Lewis’ apartment at about 2:30 a.m., Stewart said he saw an orange glow and attempted to place a 40-foot extension ladder against the building.

Trooper Ronald Jarocha said the fire was set on a couch and in a hallway inside the apartment. He said there was evidence that people smoked inside the apartment but opined that someone had to use an open flame to set the fire.

Stewart faces trial on three counts of arson, two counts each of criminal mischief and recklessly endangering another person and a single count of criminal trespass. He remains at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for lack of $100,000 bail.

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