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June 19, 2013

Woman not guilty in arson case

SARANAC LAKE — A Saranac Lake woman accused of setting an apartment-house fire last year was found not guilty Tuesday by a Franklin County jury.

Nancy G. Nixon, 35, was charged in September with setting a fire in a second-floor hallway at 169 Park Ave. in Saranac Lake on May 23, 2012.

Eight people, including a child, were in the building at the time, but no one was injured.

Nixon was charged with second-degree arson, second-degree criminal mischief and eight counts of reckless endangerment.

But the jury found her not guilty after about 10 hours of deliberations, said defense attorney Peter Dumas.

“She is very, very happy,” he said. “She was arrested in September, so she’s been sitting down in the County Jail for more than eight months, waiting for her trial.

“I told her beforehand, ‘Whatever they come back with, we don’t want to celebrate or have any outbursts,’ and she was good about that.

“She was going to go back to collect her stuff then go out and have a Big Mac or something,” Dumas said. “I know I would.

“The jury did a good job. This was a tough one.”

‘TOUGH CASE’

Prosecutors had said that Nixon was upset about being shorted in a drug deal and allegedly told others she would get satisfaction.

“She said they would ‘read about it in the newspaper tomorrow,’” District Attorney Derek Champagne said Tuesday.

Investigators suspected right away that an accelerant had been used to set the blaze.

“Arson cases are by far the toughest cases to prosecute, and a major reason why is because the evidence is destroyed by the criminal conduct,” the DA said.

He also said two of the primary witnesses admitted they had used drugs that night.

Nixon would have faced up to 25 years in state prison if she had been convicted.

The building, owned by Betsy Nicastro, was constructed about 1910 and once served as a tuberculosis-cure cottage.

The site, listed as the Clara Black Cottage on the National Register of Historic Places, sustained heavy fire and smoke damage in the blaze.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com

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