Court denies arsonist’s appeal

ALBANY – The state Supreme Court Appellate Division on Thursday upheld the Fulton County Court conviction of arsonist and murderer Jeffrey Alnutt for the December 2007 Gloversville fire in which tenant Deborah Morris died.

The 60-year-old Alnutt was convicted by a jury on May 10, 2010, of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, second-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree arson in connection with the fire Dec. 21, 2007, at 22 Park St., a building he owned.

The 39-year-old Morris lived in the second-floor apartment.

Court papers stated Morris died as the result of “asphyxia due to smoke inhalation and the inhalation of heated products of combustion.” Her death was classified as homicide.

Alnutt was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life.

The Appellate Division denied Alnutt’s appeal despite objections he received improper legal advice from defense attorney Gerard V. Heckler.

“Here, despite defendant’s protestations to the contrary, the record reflects that counsel made appropriate opening and closing statements, motions and objections, vigorously cross-examined the people’s witnesses and articulated a viable – albeit unsuccessful – defense,” appellate judges ruled. “Accordingly, we are satisfied that defendant received meaningful representation.”

The Appellate Division also rejected Alnutt’s claim his sentence was harsh and excessive.

“Defendant stands convicted of, among other things, a class A-1 felony that resulted in the death of one of his tenants – a death occasioned by defendant’s selfish attempt to resolve his financial difficulties through arson,” the decision said. “Simply put, upon reviewing defendant’s criminal history and taking into consideration the particular facts of this case, we discern no basis upon which to disturb the sentence imposed by County Court.”

The appellate judges alluded to Alnutt’s remaining contentions, including his “baseless assertion” of prosecutorial misconduct.

Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira said Thursday that Alnutt can still appeal his case to the state Court of Appeals. She said she was “very much satisfied” with the decision by the Appellate Division Thursday.

“It was a joint effort on a variety of fronts in this case,” Sira said.

The district attorney said the decision validates work put in by her office on the case, but that is a “small measure” to Morris’ family.

In a news release issued Thursday, Sira commended the Gloversville police and fire departments, as well as several state offices, for their work on the fatal-fire case. She said Alnutt carried a “blatant disregard” for the life of Morris and safety of her boyfriend, upstairs tenant Gary Romaine.

Sira said Alnutt has a “callous, narcissistic personality and criminal propensity.”

“He is where he needs to be – in state prison to ensure public safety,” the release said.

Alnutt’s attorney, Fort Plain attorney Joseph Nalli, didn’t return phone calls Thursday or this morning seeking comment.

At the time of the May 2010 conviction, Alnutt already was serving a sentence of five to 15 years on previous arson and insurance fraud convictions relating to a fire in January 2004 at 42 Steele Ave. in Gloversville, which he also owned. Alnutt, his daughter Aubrey Pagan and his son-in-law Victor Pagan all were convicted of insurance fraud, grand larceny, reckless endangerment and conspiracy in that case. Aubrey Pagan was sentenced to one to three years in state prison, and Victor Pagan was sentenced to 1 1/3 to four years in prison.

Alnutt also lost an appeal Dec. 27 in the state Supreme Court Appellate Division after he challenged various aspects of his conviction in Fulton County Court for his role in the Steele Avenue fire.