Man pleads guilty to Athol church fires

  • Trevor J. Defrancesco stands before Judge Mark Mason (unseen) during his arraignment in Franklin County Superior Court in January 2020. On Tuesday, Defrancesco, now 23, stood before Judge Karen Goodwin to plead guilty to charges stemming from an October 2019 incident in which he intentionally set three fires inside Our Lady Immaculate Church in Athol. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Our Lady Immaculate Church on School Street in Athol. Trevor J. Defrancesco, 23, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge stemming from an Oct. 19, 2019, incident in which he intentionally set three fires inside the church. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The entrances to Our Lady Immaculate Church on School Street were posted with signs on Oct. 20, 2019, to inform parishioners weekend Mass would be celebrated at St. Francis of Assisi Church on Main Street in Athol after three fires were set inside Our Lady the day before. Trevor J. Defrancesco, 23, stood before Franklin County Superior Court Judge Karen Goodwin on Tuesday to plead guilty to charges stemming from the October 2019 incident. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2021 5:08:49 PM

GREENFIELD — A 23-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge stemming from an Oct. 19, 2019, incident in which he intentionally set three fires inside Our Lady Immaculate Church in Athol.

Trevor J. Defrancesco appeared before Judge Karen Goodwin in Franklin County Superior Court to enter his plea on one count of burning a building. Sentencing is expected later this month or in early May. Defrancesco appeared in court with attorney Jonah Goldsmith.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Thomas, who prosecuted the case, told Goodwin that a passerby saw smoke coming from the church at around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2019, and called 911.

“Firefighters responded and were able to extinguish the fire after some work,” Thomas said, adding that firefighters went into the church’s basement, which is used by Alcoholics Anonymous for meetings, and learned fires had been set on a countertop, in a cabinet and on a table. “The defendant later confessed to setting pamphlets on fire, of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Thomas said the fire in the cabinet had gone up a wall and had begun to catch the basement’s ceiling.

“It … could have possibly destroyed the building,” Thomas said. “It was a very near thing.”

Thomas said Defrancesco’s possessions were found directly adjacent to the church and Defrancesco later confessed to the crime. He was homeless at the time.

Before accepting the defendant’s plea, Goodwin asked Defrancesco questions to determine whether he understood the situation. Defrancesco said he has held a few full-time jobs, including at Walmart. He said he plans to soon enter the job market again.

Goodwin also asked about his mental and physical health.

“I’ve been to therapists a million times. I’m talking to one currently. I have an appointment scheduled later today,” Defrancesco said. “They offer me any prescription I want, but I never take it.”

Defrancesco also said he has Crohn’s disease, but does not take any medication for it. He said he occasionally takes natural remedies, such as melatonin.

Goodwin ensured that Defrancesco understood that by pleading guilty he was giving up his right to a public trial in which the government has the burden of proof. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, and no minimum sentence.

Defrancesco was originally arraigned in January 2020, when he pleaded not guilty in front of Superior Court Judge Mark Mason.

Requests for comment left at Our Lady Immaculate Church were not returned before press time.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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