Duluth arson suspect bought ski mask, denies lighting fireBuilding contractor Adam Seavey admitted Wednesday that he was the man captured on a Walmart surveillance video purchasing a dark ski mask, dark hoodie and dark slacks the day before he is accused of setting fire to the home of a client who refused to pay him because his work wasn’t properly permitted and didn’t meet city code.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
Building contractor Adam Seavey admitted Wednesday that he was the man captured on a Walmart surveillance video purchasing a dark ski mask, dark hoodie and dark slacks the day before he is accused of setting fire to the home of a client who refused to pay him because his work wasn’t properly permitted and didn’t meet city code.
But Seavey testified that he wasn’t the man wearing a similar mask and clothes caught on a home security surveillance camera sprinkling gasoline on the steps of his client’s Duluth duplex and lighting it on fire.
Seavey said that he purchased the one ski mask as an extra for his three kids to keep snow out of their faces when he pulled them behind the snowmobile. He said he purchased the other clothes to be “comfy.”
Duplex owner Jason Branstrom testified Tuesday that Seavey threatened to break his legs and that he had been repeatedly victimized by vandalism at his home after he told the contractor he wouldn’t pay for his substandard work.
Seavey, 35, owner of Solid Concrete Work, is standing trial in State District Court in Duluth accused of first-degree arson.
The arson incident at 19 E. Eighth St. was reported to police just after 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 16. Seavey’s wife, Tori, testified Wednesday that she went to bed about 10:15 that night. She said her husband was doing the laundry and dishes at the time. She said she never heard him leave their Riverside neighborhood house. She said she would have heard him leave if he had.
The defendant testified that he went to bed about midnight, only to be awakened by Duluth police who wanted to talk to him at 3 a.m. after officers and firefighters responded to the fire.
Adam Seavey testified that he never threatened Branstrom “in any way whatsoever.” He said he was never at the duplex at night. Four separate incidents of vandalism occurred at the residence about 12:30 a.m.
Duluth police arson and crime scene investigator Todd Kuusisto testified that he smelled gasoline in a milk jug when he responded to the fire. He interviewed Branstrom and found him to be “very shaken, nervous, upset, very much scared about what might happen next.”
Defense attorney Mikkel Long pointed out to jurors that potential evidence at the scene was contaminated by the foot traffic created by a half-dozen police officers and the firefighters at the scene. Kuusisto conceded that “too many paths’’ were created, but the priority was to protect life and property with the second consideration being the evidence left behind.
Adam Seavey said he did 100 to 150 jobs a year and maybe once a year he had a customer refuse to pay a bill. He suggested that he basically considered that the cost of doing business. He said he would go through litigation with a customer if the bill was large enough to justify it but that he had never done that.
St. Louis County prosecutor Rebekka Stumme softly but sarcastically asked Adam Seavey if he “gently told” his customer that he was upset about not getting paid. The defendant didn’t disagree with that characterization.
Under questioning by Long, Tori Seavey testified that after her husband was arrested she talked to her sister-in-law, Duluth police officer Ann Padden. Padden told her what the surveillance video of the suspect setting the fire looked like.
Tori Seavey said she went home and picked through the dirty clothes pile looking for any sign of gasoline. She said she didn’t smell anything flammable and didn’t smell smoke on the clothing. She also found the Walmart receipt showing the purchase of a face mask. She told Padden about the receipt and Padden notified her police department.
Stumme asked the defendant’s wife why, if she were 100 percent sure that her husband never left their home that night, she was smelling his clothes for gasoline and smoke. Tori Seavey struggled for an answer, but finally said, “only because of what I was told.”
Judge Dale Harris told jurors they probably will get the case to deliberate about midday today.The defendant has prior felony convictions for terroristic threats and sale and possession of marijuana. He faces a guideline sentence of 68 months in prison if found guilty.