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Milford arson case takes odd twist at hearing

Union Leader Correspondent

February 04. 2013 8:27PM

MILFORD - After an unusual probable cause hearing on Monday morning, Colleen Carr, accused of conspiring to commit arson, was returned to jail on $75,000 cash bail to await possible indictment on the felony charge.

Carr, 50, was arrested last month and charged with conspiracy to commit arson, a class A felony, and witness tampering, a class B felony. Carr, who owns a three-story building on the Milford Oval, is accused of plotting to burn down the building, which includes two apartments and two businesses, in order to get insurance money.

At Carr's probable cause hearing, a formality that requires the prosecution to show that there's enough evidence to send a case to a superior court grand jury, Detective Sgt. Kevin Furlong testified that Carr's tenant, Maureen Riley, who lives in the third-floor apartment, told another tenant that Carr had offered her $7,000 to go away for a couple of weeks because Carr intended to torch the building.

Riley, according to Furlong, then told Rick Fells of Carr's alleged plot, and Fells, who owns a smoke shop on the first floor of the building, immediately went to police.

Furlong testified that an investigation was started immediately and revealed that Carr had been putting everything in place in order to commit arson, including calling her insurance company to make sure she had adequate coverage on the building, moving boxes and personal items from the building to her mother's house, and even checking with Fells to ensure that he had liability insurance. Carr also secured a court order in early January in order to get access to the basement of the building through Fells' business when he wasn't there because the only other access point was blocked off.

Carr assured Riley that the fire would be started while everyone was out of the building, and said she had committed arson once before and gotten away with it, said Furlong. Carr's mother's house in Mont Vernon burned in 1990, said Furlong, and though the cause of the fire was never determined, it appeared that the fuse box in the home had been tampered with.

Police also interviewed Carr's boyfriend, Connie Kelleher, who said Carr told him she intended to "cook the building," according to Furlong. The plan was to set fire to the basement and let it consume the building from there. Carr owes $92,000 on the mortgage of the building, which is assessed at $193,000 but insured for close to $400,000.

Kelleher was contacted by the police during the investigation and in taped phone conversations between Carr and Kelleher, obtained by warrant from the Attorney General's Office, Furlong said Carr tried to convince Kelleher to tell police that Riley had threatened to burn down the building.

Carr's attorney, William Keefe, attempted to show that though the building was insured, the bank or the insurance company could demand that she rebuild and thus prevent her from benefitting from the fire. Furlong also said, under Keefe's cross-examination, that Carr had no prior criminal record.

Then Keefe made the unusual move of having his client testify, something that is allowed under the law but very rarely happens at probable cause hearings. During her testimony, Carr insisted it was her tenant, Maureen Riley, who was plotting to burn down the building. Carr said Riley was angry at her because she wouldn't allow Riley's daughter and children to move into the apartment.

Carr said she would never have plotted to commit arson because her children worked next door at Ralph's Service Station, owned by her ex-husband Ralph Porter, and she knew the vapors from the gas tanks could ignite.

"My son works there, and he's sometimes there until midnight," said Carr. "I never would have done this."

As Carr's testimony ended, Judge Martha Crocker quickly found that the state's burden of proof had been met and ordered the case sent up to the grand jury.

Though Carr's attorney argued for $75,000 personal recognizance bail, Crocker left the original condition of $75,000 cash-only bail in place.

"The danger to the community is pronounced in this matter," said Crocker, because the building is located in a densely populated area next door to a gas station.

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