Teen charged in blazes awaits trial

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By Jenny Arnold

The courthouse fire and a second arson at 6th Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield’s office across the street a few days later last August had local law enforcement officers working around the clock.

The urgency to find a suspect was compounded by a series of armed robberies outside the U.S. Post Office on Main Street and other downtown businesses in the weeks following the fires.

The fires and robberies had the Lancaster Police Department, Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, the State Law Enforcement Division and other authorities working long hours side by side.

Officers recall days after fires

Lancaster Police Chief Hugh White said the six weeks of violent events last August and September had residents on edge.

“It was taxing on our officers,” White said. “People were afraid. They were afraid to walk to their cars in parking lots. I thought, ‘If someone is bold enough to try to burn down the courthouse, they’re bold enough to try just about anything.’ Whoever was doing it, we needed to find them and get them off the street.”

But it helped that local, state and federal authorities came together to work the cases, White said.

“It was very smooth,” he said. “It was like we worked together for a long time.”

Sheriff Barry Faile also felt an urgency to solve the crimes. He was second in command at the sheriff’s office at the time.

“You’re already in high gear trying to make an arrest,” Faile said. “Then there’s a second fire and you’re concerned about how the community will take it. People are looking at us to get something done. There was a lot of disbelief from the community. You had a man trying to burn down the town and you were wondering what was going to be next.”

The break came in late September, when the Lancaster Police Department charged 17-year-old Martavious Carter in an armed robbery in the parking lot of Elizabeth Ann’s Interiors on Main Street in late September.

During the incident, a woman was forced into the trunk of her car at gunpoint, police said, and driven to a field behind Eastside Academy, where her car was abandoned.

The woman was able to free herself from the trunk. Investigators developed Carter as a suspect and he was arrested later that day. The next day, he was charged with arson in connection with the courthouse and solicitor’s office fires.

Faile said Lancaster County can be proud of the way its officers came together in the wake of the fires and robberies.

“When you have an incident and you see all your emergency services come together for one common purpose, it’s a good thing,” he said. “Everyone just came together.”

Status of the case

Carter has been in jail at the Lancaster County Detention Center since his arrest.

Carter is facing 31 charges in connection with the courthouse and solicitor’s office fires and the armed robberies.

Because Barfield, his staff, whose offices were housed in the courthouse, and the Lancaster County public defender staff, who were also housed in the courthouse, are considered victims in the case, they won’t be handling it.

Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett, from neighboring York County, will try the case in Lancaster County.

Carter is being represented by York County Public Defender Harry Dest.

Brackett said there have been delays as Carter was first appointed a public defender from Lancaster County, then had a Charlotte attorney. The Charlotte attorney had a conflict, so Carter’s case was given to Dest in June.

“I’m in the process of reviewing the case,” Brackett said Friday. “I’ve met with the victims and spoke with Harry Dest about possible resolutions to this case. We are working diligently on it.”

Dest wouldn’t say much about the case, but said his office has begun its investigation.

He wouldn’t say if there would be a motion to request a change of venue for the trial.

“It’s always an option for a defendant to request a change of venue,” Dest said.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Arnold at jarnold@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151