Strafford arson suspect competent to stand trial

Staff report

Published: 02-07-2024 10:16 PM

CHELSEA — A 37-year-old man who faces a first-degree arson charge alleging he torched the cabin where he lived on a remote Strafford road is competent to stand trial, a Vermont judge ruled on Wednesday.

Edward (Eddie) Gallagher III expressed fear about “zombies in the woods” and pleaded that he needed help and wanted to be taken to the hospital when he showed up at Coburns’ General Store in South Strafford a few hours after he is alleged to have set fire to his cabin on Taylor Valley Road on Sept. 9, 2023.

Gallagher had called police more than two dozen times in the evening and early morning hours leading up to the fire to report that he was being “held hostage” at his cabin and threatening to light it on fire.

During a competency hearing held in Orange County Superior Court in Chelsea that lasted less than four minutes on Wednesday morning, Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann said that a psychiatric evaluation of Gallagher submitted to the court on Dec. 8, 2023, found Gallagher competent to stand trial.

Both Orange County State’s Attorney Colin Seaman and Gallagher’s defense attorney William Stocker said they supported the conclusion of the evaluation.

“The state has relayed an offer is impending,” Stocker said in court, telling the judge that “you’ll either get a change of plea or a felony stipulation very shortly.”

Mann said she would set a status conference date for “mid-April” when the parties will update the court on the status of a plea agreement or if they expect the case is headed for jury trial.

Gallagher told Sue Coburn, who was able to draw Gallagher into conversation when he showed up at their store by walking from Strafford to South Strafford after the cabin had burned to the ground, that he watched the blaze from a camping chair he had pulled into the middle of the road.

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The cabin was already largely reduced to a smoldering heap by the time firefighters were alerted and arrived at the scene.

Gallagher, who is originally from St. Johnsbury and had been living since 2021 at the Strafford cabin owned by his father, appeared at Wednesday’s court hearing via video link from Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, where he remains incarcerated in. He did not speak.