By Ralph Echtinaw
Bethany Township farmer Bradley Lynn Baxter, 53, pleaded guilty to attempted third degree arson at a circuit court conference in the Gratiot County Courthouse Monday, according to Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Shephard.
A sentencing hearing was set for 10:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 18. Attempted third degree arson is a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Baxter admitted to entering a dilapidated house on the St. Louis school district’s Camp Monroe property on the south side of Jackson Road east of State Road on Feb. 5 and intentionally lighting it on fire with a blow torch, Shephard said.
The fire was reported by a motorist on Jackson Road. Baxter himself lives on Jackson Road and is a neighbor of Camp Monroe.
Shephard was prepared to take Baxter to trial on Sept. 22 on two felony counts: Third Degree Arson and Arson – Preparation to Burn Real Property. He pleaded not guilty on both counts at a May 27 arraignment.
Shephard said she won’t be at liberty to disclose the information and/or evidence that led police to charge Baxter with the crime until after the sentencing.
The Baxter case was inadvertently brought to this reporter’s attention at the August school board meeting when board member John D. Pavlik requested a closed session to discuss it.
Instead of saying what he wanted to discuss, Pavlik passed a letter around that he received from the prosecutor’s office. His fellow board members and Superintendent Jennifer McKittrick were the only other people in the room to see it. McKittrick said the letter didn’t meet the criteria for a closed session.
Pavlik declined to discuss the letter after the meeting, but McKittrick sent a copy of it to the Sentinel two days later.
Turns out that Pavlik had been designated by the school board as the contact for the prosecutor’s office, which is why the letter was sent to him. Since the building that burned was on school property, the school district is legally the victim of Baxter’s crime.