Utica, NY Verdict Is In: Jury finds Baird guilty
Ken Little, Observer-Dispatch
UTICA — Alan G. Baird III was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide Wednesday by an Oneida County Court jury for his role in the death of Lairdsville Fire Department trainee Bradley Golden.
Baird, 30, faces a maximum prison term of 1ß to four years when he is sentenced on the felony conviction July 8 by Judge Michael L. Dwyer, although jail time is not mandatory.
The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated about eight hours Tuesday and Wednesday before coming back with the verdict. Baird was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault in the case, which has attracted nationwide attention.
Emotions were on edge in the crowded courtroom, filled equally with Golden and Baird family members and supporters. The verdict was announced to subdued silence. Tears began to flow freely moments later.
“I wish it had been a different charge, but at least he got something for taking my baby away from me,” said Carol Roberts, the victim’s mother.
Bradley Golden’s uncle, Doug Ellis, said the tragedy will remain with his family “for years and years and years.”
“I really think the man did a lot wrong and he’s got to pay the price,” said Ellis, who added he hopes Baird “sits in his cell” and thinks about his actions every day.
Baird listed to the verdict without a show of emotion. Tears were welling in his eyes as he quickly left the courthouse with lawyer Robert P. Moran Jr., pursued by a legion of microphones, television cameras and reporters.
“I’m going to move on,” Baird said as he removed a pair of glasses to wipe his eyes.
Baird’s parents, Alan Baird II and Candy Baird, sat through the entire trial on a front-row courtroom bench.
“It’s disappointing for my son. He put up a good fight and I give him credit for being man enough to stand up for his rights. He’s got a lot of guts, unlike a lot of people in the district,” the senior Baird said.
Baird, a Lairdsville assistant fire chief at the time of the exercise, admitted he planned the “live burn” training exercise at a vacant farmhouse on Route 5 in Westmoreland and ignited a first-floor sofa bed that burned out of control. The fast-spreading blaze caused the death of Golden, 19, and severely burned Lairdsville firefighters Benjamin Morris and Adam Croman.
But Baird testified that he was not in charge at the scene, indicating Westmoreland Chief James Kimball was incident commander and Croman was a safety officer on the second floor with Golden and Morris. All were aware a fire was to be lit on the first floor, he said.
In earlier prosecution testimony, Kimball, Croman, Morris and Lairdsville fire Chief Lance Croman testified they did not know Baird planned a first-floor fire, which quickly spread up the stairs of the old farmhouse.
Golden joined the Lairdsville company in early September and was acting as a drill “victim” with Morris.
Golden died of asphyxia caused by smoke and superheated air, trial testimony showed.
A pre-sentence investigation will be completed on Baird and forwarded to Dwyer with a sentencing recommendation from the district attorney’s office. In March, Baird turned down a plea offer to criminally negligent homicide that included six months in Oneida County jail and five years’ probation.
Baird would also have been required to speak with other firefighters about mistakes he made Sept. 25.
Coluzza would not speculate about Baird’s sentence.
“We need to talk about the case over at our office and we need to be in touch with the family of Bradley Golden,” he said.
Jury members declined comment after the verdict.
“The jury obviously worked a long, hard time and seriously considered all the issues in this case. I’m gratified they found there was criminal conduct on the part of the defendant,” said prosecuting First District Attorney Michael Coluzza, who was assisted on the case by Assistant District Attorney Stacey L. Scotti.
Twice as they deliberated, jurors asked Dwyer to explain the charge of criminally negligent homicide, a lesser count they were allowed to consider. Baird faced a maximum sentence of five to 15 years if convicted on the manslaughter count.
“During the course of his testimony, he admitted the elements of manslaughter second,” Coluzza said.
The criminal conviction of Baird sends a message that New York state training standards must be established for firefighters, Coluzza said.
“I think there should be state-mandated standards that are compulsory,” he said. “If it saves one life or prevents a person from from being terribly injured, it is worth enactment by the Legislature.”
Golden family members said they will work toward seeing a state law passed.
“As a family, we will fight for that,” said Christine Golden, the victim’s sister-in-law.
Twenty-five prosecution and seven defense witnesses took the stand over five days of testimony. The high-profile trial lasted eight days.
Courtesy the Observer-Dispatch