Hall of Shame 2010: Jeffrey AlnuttBy James Quiggle
January 2, 2011
Arsonist stokes flames of greed
Debra Morris dashed back into the flaming house, trying to rescue her cat. But the second-floor tenant never made it back out. Morris perished in the voracious smoke and flames that devoured the structure.
The building’s owner Jeffrey Alnutt had set the place afire, hoping to steal a $277,000 insurance payday to bail himself out of crushing debt and failed business ventures in the Johnstown, N.Y. area. Someone set the fire as revenge because he was a drug informant for local police, Alnutt contended.
But the court didn’t buy his story. The case against Alnutt was largely circumstantial, but was convincingly pieced together by investigators and prosecutors.
Evidence piles up. A trained arson dog found gasoline in the rubble where Alnutt had poured and ignited gasoline. The blaze started in the enclosed porch, where the searing flames burned a large hole in the center of the porch floor.
A gasoline can also was found melted to the floor. A witness saw Alnutt carrying what looked like the offending gas can onto the porch before the fire broke out. Another witness saw Alnutt carrying personal belongings from the building before the blaze.
An old dryer connected to a natural gas line on the porch could’ve started the blaze, Alnutt argued at his trial. But investigators found nothing that could’ve started a natural or accidental fire.
Alnutt had plenty of motives to score insurance money. His varied businesses were failing because he spent too much time with his girlfriend, testified his ex-wife, who also was his business partner and accountant. At one point, they owned seven buildings but couldn’t cover the mortgages.
The annual income of his vocational rehab business also had fallen from nearly $720,000 to under $300,000 in just one year.
Showed no remorse. Nor was Alnutt a stranger to insurance-driven arson schemes. He already was serving 15 years in prison for torching another of his buildings for insurance money.
Alnutt received 25 years to life in prison for his murderous arson. The New York frauds bureau played a lead role in the investigation, calling the conviction one of the most significant in the unit’s history.
But Alnutt showed no remorse. Instead, he arguing with the judge why the sentence should be overturned. The judge recounted a conversation Alnutt had had with Morris’ boyfriend Gary Romaine after the tragic fire. Romaine was grieving her loss. “‘You said, ‘Well, you know I lost some furniture and antiques too’” the judge reminded Alnutt. “That said a lot about the insight into your mindset and your character...”
Romaine wrote a victim-impact statement before Alnutt was sentenced: “Jeff, you were once considered a very good friend of mine and Debbie's. We would have done anything for such a good friend. That is why I can't ever understand why you did such a terrible thing to us...
“My family and I hope you never see a day of peace, that you are left with thoughts of Debbie's horrible end and know the extreme pain and suffering you have left us with.”
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