Strafford man out of prison after pleading guilty to burning down cabin

John Blakeney, left, and Nick Howe, right, of Howe Enterprises, look over the site of a fire in Strafford, Vt., on Monday, Sept. 11., 2023, that destroyed a cabin early on Saturday, and speculate on how one of their portable toilets, partially melted from the heat, ended up in a nearby brook. Eddie Gallagher was arrested Saturday morning, September 9, 2023, for allegedly burning down his home, a camp with no running water in Strafford, Vt., and arraigned on a charge of first degree arson via Webex from the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

John Blakeney, left, and Nick Howe, right, of Howe Enterprises, look over the site of a fire in Strafford, Vt., on Monday, Sept. 11., 2023, that destroyed a cabin early on Saturday, and speculate on how one of their portable toilets, partially melted from the heat, ended up in a nearby brook. Eddie Gallagher was arrested Saturday morning, September 9, 2023, for allegedly burning down his home, a camp with no running water in Strafford, Vt., and arraigned on a charge of first degree arson via Webex from the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Edward (Eddie) Gallagher III attends a competency hearing remotely on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, where Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann in Chelsea, Vt., said an evaluation found Gallagher can stand trail for an arson charge. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Edward (Eddie) Gallagher III attends a competency hearing remotely on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, where Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann in Chelsea, Vt., said an evaluation found Gallagher can stand trail for an arson charge. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-22-2024 4:32 PM

CHELSEA — A Strafford man who set the cabin where he was living ablaze after police failed to respond to his repeated calls of distress is free and received a fully suspended prison sentence as part of plea deal on a reduced arson charge.

Edward Gallagher pleaded guilty to a felony charge of second-degree arson and was sentenced to one to five years in prison, all suspended, and probation for four years in Orange County Superior Court on May 8, according to court records.

Gallagher, 38, was arrested and charged last September after he showed up in South Strafford the morning after he set fire to the cabin in which he had been living on Taylor Valley Road. Prior to the fire, he made dozens of phone calls to police reporting that he was being “held hostage” and threatening to torch his home.

Originally from the St. Johnsbury, Vt., area, Gallagher had been living at the cabin owned by his father since late 2021. Concerned Strafford residents, worried about him as he was living by himself in the back road cabin without his own transportation, took it upon themselves to help Gallagher get groceries and to check on his welfare.

Although the court ruled that Gallagher was competent to stand trial, Colin Seaman, Orange County state’s attorney, said that the reduced charge and suspended sentence was crafted to take into account Gallagher’s struggles with mental health issues, as those issues would not be remedied simply with further prison time. Gallagher risks prison time only if he violates probation.

But by reducing the charge to second-degree arson, Gallagher avoids serving a more draconian two-year minimum under a first-degree arson conviction that could be imposed if “there’s another violation or mental health collapse,” Seaman noted.

Seaman said that reports indicate that Gallagher — who was incarcerated for 240 days — has made “good progress,” and “I didn’t think a two-year minimum on a probated sentence would have served anybody’s interest in justice.”

Gallagher’s sentence also includes numerous probationary conditions, including adhering to prescribed medications, submitting to mental health and substance abuse screenings and any treatment ordered, and completing a restorative justice program.

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William Stocker, Gallagher’s defense attorney, said via email on Wednesday that he was unable to reach Gallagher by deadline to comment specifically on the disposition of his client’s case.

But Stocker offered generally that “too often it seems that Vermonters (who) need our help the most are being offered prison instead of treatment.”

Gallagher’s legal troubles are not entirely resolved, however.

He still has pending multiple misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace by phone in Caledonia County Superior Court alleging that the day before he burned down his cabin in Strafford he made numerous calls to both the Northeast Correctional Complex and Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury. Court documents allege he made “many offensive, outlandish and even homicidal comments” to staff.

Gallagher’s current place of residence since his release from prison on May 8 could not be learned on Wednesday.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.