DA: Arson suspect is fugitive due to ‘totally inadequate’ low bail

A 25-year-old New Bedford man who was released on $500 cash bail after admitting to setting a multi-family home on fire in February is now a fugitive from justice after failing to appear for his recent Superior Court arraignment — a situation Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn says is the result of “an abuse of judicial discretion.”

New Bedford firefighters responding to a reported fire at 330 North Front St. about 1:54 p.m. on Feb. 28 found a multi-family home in flames.

An investigation later revealed that Xavier Betancourt Echevarria, who lived in the building, had set the fire in a hallway using a container filled with gasoline because the landlord had begun eviction proceedings against his family, according to a statement issued Monday by the Bristol District Attorney’s Office.

After Echevarria admitted to the crime, investigators allegedly obtained video surveillance that showed him leaving his house, buying gas at the gas station, and returning to the building.

At his initial court appearance, a defense attorney argued that Echevarria, who had extensive ties to Puerto Rico, suffered from mental health issues.

“Despite prosecutors’ efforts to have the defendant held without bail for up to 120 days as a danger to the community in New Bedford District Court, Judge Franco Gobourne ruled the defendant was not a danger to the public and also refused to set appropriate bail,” the Bristol DA’s office statement read. “Instead, the judge released the defendant on $500 cash bail.”

A default warrant for Echevarria’s arrest was issued after he failed to appear for his arraignment on an arson charge earlier this month in Fall River Superior Court.

The Bristol District Attorney’s Office called the situation “an example of a case where the low bail set by the court was totally inadequate and an abuse of judicial discretion.”

“The defendant set fire to an occupied multi-family home, has no strong ties to our area, has mental health issues and confessed to the crime. It is clear that this defendant should’ve been held as a danger to community. Not many crimes are more dangerous than setting fire to an occupied building,” Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn said in a statement. “At the very least, much higher bail should have been set because of his strong ties to Puerto Rico. It is no surprise that he did not appear for his Superior Court arraignment. This is clearly an individual who doesn’t belong out on the streets. Based on the facts of this case, there is a strong likelihood this defendant would have been facing a prison sentence. Bail decisions like the one in this case undermines confidence in the administration of justice, and serves no one’s interest but the defendant’s.”

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