HUDSON — The defense and prosecution rested their cases Monday in Columbia County Court in the trial against Barry Goldstein, who is accused of hiring a Stuyvesant man to burn down his home for insurance money.
Goldstein, 76, of Stockport, was arraigned Nov. 14, 2018 — more than a year after the fire — on charges of first-degree insurance fraud, a class B felony; third-degree arson, a class C felony; and first-degree reckless endangerment, a class D felony.
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka is prosecuting the case, alongside Assistant District Attorney Joyce Crawford. The prosecution argued that William Travis, 33, of Stuyvesant Falls, burned down the home at 290 County Route 25 for Goldstein, who wanted to collect $1 million after learning from a real estate agent that his home would sell for $300,000.
Travis testified Tuesday that, on Oct. 1, 2017, he used a can of denatured alcohol and a dime-store lighter to set fire to some boxes in the attic and ran out of the house. A representative of Goldstein’s alarm company testified that the home’s burglar alarm system was not set at the time of the fire.
Days prior, Travis said Goldstein showed him how to spread the denatured alcohol on the third floor. He also allegedly broke a light bulb to claim squirrels were responsible for igniting the blaze.
Travis revealed the alleged plot to Columbia County Sheriff’s investigators under questioning for more than 10 hours. Travis said he had a “guilty conscience” and added police told him he could serve up to 30 years in prison if he did not confess.
When Goldstein was questioned by police, he denied the allegations and said he was shocked when he learned what Travis did.
The cause of the fire was deemed undetermined by state fire investigators because they were unable to inspect the interior of the home. But that does not rule out arson, Homeland Security and Emergency Services Investigator Richard Daus and Investigator John Fairclough said in their testimony.
Goldstein is accused of selling off items in an estate sale and buying a mobile home to live in before the fire. Goldstein has denied the charges, and his attorney said that it would not make sense for Goldstein start a fire to destroy his beloved late wife’s home.
The prosecution rested its case shortly after 9 a.m. Monday. A motion for dismissal by defense attorney Roy Nestler based on a lack of evidence was denied by Columbia County Judge Richard M. Koweek.
Then it was the defense’s turn to call witnesses. The sole witness was Goldstein’s stepdaughter Beth Bagner. She testified that she knew Goldstein for 28 years.
“He was an amazing stepfather,” Bagner said.
Nestler asked Bagner if she had ever heard her stepfather use the term “Jewish lightning.” She said she did not. The derogatory term is allegedly what Goldstein used to describe the plot as he explained how to carry out the arson, Travis said in testimony. Travis, who said he had never heard the term before, defined the term incorrectly on the witness stand last week, saying that it meant lightning never strikes the same place three times.
The prosecution opted not to cross-examine Bagner.
Goldstein declined to testify. Defendants are not required to testify by law, as the burden of proof rests solely on the prosecution in a criminal trial. Koweek gave Goldstein the option to testify Wednesday morning if he changes his mind.
The trial will resume with closing arguments from the prosecution and defense Wednesday at 9 a.m. After that, the jury will receive instructions on the law by the judge and then begin their deliberations.
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