BRENTWOOD — Investigators searching the computer of a Kingston man accused of breaking into the Carriage Towne Plaza and setting a fire last week found information on making the poison ricin on his computer, a prosecutor said Monday.
“His comments to them at the time were that, ‘I want to tell everybody how to do it,’” Assistant Rockingham County Attorney Jill Cook said at a bail hearing Monday.
Rockingham County Superior Court Judge N. William Delker ordered John Gates, 44, held at the county jail on $50,000 cash bail.
Gates was arrested Friday and charged with felony burglary and arson after he allegedly broke into Carriage Towne Market — located in the plaza at 53 Church St. — in the early morning hours of Jan. 17 and started a fire.
While Gates isn’t facing any charges related to the ricin information allegedly found on his computer, Cook said it’s something that’s “being looked at.”
Ricin is found in castor beans and can be deadly to humans.
Cook asked the court to set bail at $100,000 cash after voicing concerns that Gates might pose a danger to the community and be a flight risk. She said that on the afternoon of the fire Gates applied for an expedited passport, which he received on Jan. 19. As part of his bail conditions, Gates is required to surrender his passport.
In an affidavit, Shana Clark, a fire investigator with the state fire marshal’s office, wrote that the fire occurred in the Carriage Towne Market and that footwear impressions were found in the snow leading from the back door of Asian Gourmet, which is currently vacant and located next to the market. Firefighters found the door to Asian Gourmet unsecured, Clark said.
Clark said the footwear impressions led approximately a quarter-mile to two apartments located at 263 Route 125 in Kingston — one for Gates and the other for his mother, Amy Magnusson, who appeared in court to support her son.
Public defender Larissa Kiers argued that Gates has strong ties to the community and wasn’t a flight risk.
Kiers said it appears that the only evidence gathered so far is the tracks from the snow leading to his apartment.
“There really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of evidence against Mr. Gates,” said Kiers, who urged the court to disregard the information allegedly found on his computer.
Gates has denied involvement in the fire.
During the investigation, Clark said firefighters found a large opening in the interior wall separating Asian Gourmet and the market.
The hole was approximately one foot by four feet in size and “it appeared large enough for a person to fit through to access either business,” Clark said.
Market owner Devendra Patel told investigators that to his knowledge the hole didn’t exist the day before the fire. Patel also told them that there was approximately $800 to $900 in a locked cabinet inside the store. Clark said the cabinet was found to be opened and had pry marks on one of the doors.
Investigators found several empty paper money bundles on the floor and only rolls of pennies, nickels and dimes inside the cabinet, Clark said.
Fire Chief Bill Seaman told investigators that firefighters also smelled a possible gasoline odor.
When police Sgt. Michael LePage questioned him about the footprints, Clark said Gates told him that he was shoveling snow before police showed up.
Gates allegedly showed LePage a pair of dry sneakers when asked to produce the footwear. LePage then noticed a pair of wet boots with tread that was similar to what was found at the scene of the fire, according to Clark.
Fire investigators allegedly found the presence of ignitable liquids at the fire scene and on the boots that were seized as evidence.
Clark said Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. spoke with Gates on two occasions. Gates denied being involved with the fire or anywhere near the scene, but Briggs claimed he later changed his account of what happened on the evening of Jan. 16 or early morning of Jan. 17.
Gates allegedly told Briggs he walked to the area of the plaza to look for food in the Dumpsters, but police claim the footprints weren’t near the Dumpsters.
Clark said investigators executed a search warrant at his apartment and found receipts dated Jan. 17 and Jan. 18 totaling $509.90. Police reported that during past interactions with Gates they were told that he doesn’t work, has no source of income, and lived rent-free in the apartment owed by his uncle.
“The receipts show large monetary purchases which do not coincide with the lifestyle that Mr. Gates was recently (known) to be living,” Clark said in the affidavit.