Sentencing was delayed Thursday for a Dorchester man who pleaded guilty to setting four arson fires, because he might be responsible for starting six additional blazes, a US District Court Judge said.
At the start of Thursday’s sentencing hearing for Jose L. Baez, Judge Douglas P. Woodlock said that he is obligated to consider the six additional arsons in Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Lawrence, and Cambridge that investigators linked to Baez, though he was never charged in those fires.
Baez, 40, faces a maximum of 100 years in prison on the four arson charges to which he pleaded guilty. The sentence could be more severe with the consideration of the other fires.
Federal law permits judges to consider “bad acts” committed by defendants, even if those acts were not the subject of a trial or plea, in the same manner that the court considers a defendant’s background and work history as mitigating factors in sentencing.
Before the hearing started, Baez, dressed in a sand-brown prison uniform, turned and smiled at relatives in the second row.
His lawyer, Gordon Spencer, asked Woodlock for a recess so he could discuss the impact of the additional evidence. After a 40-minute break, Spencer returned and told Woodlock that Baez did not fully understand the ramifications. Baez still has the option to withdraw his guilty plea in favor of a trial.
“I don’t believe he appreciates the risks and consequences,” Spencer said. Woodlock then delayed the sentencing hearing until Dec. 12.
Five firefighters and a civilian were injured in the four arsons in which Baez pleaded guilty. There were no injuries in the six other arsons.
“We contemplated long and hard on whether we should put on trial those other six,” David G. Tobin, assistant US attorney, told Woodlock.
Prosecutors say the evidence against Baez is strong. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives tracked him on the early morning of Aug. 9, 2010, using a GPS device attached to his car, according to an affidavit.
Baez drove his Chevrolet Caprice from his Columbia Road residence to 5 Bexley Road in Roslindale, arriving at 3:44 a.m. Moments later, a fire broke out at 11 Firth Road, a short distance away. Boston police stopped Baez near his home, and after noticing a strong odor of gasoline, arrested him. Police found a box of wooden matches in his pocket, according to the affidavit.
Baez also pleaded guilty to setting a fire at the Whole Foods supermarket on Alewife Parkway in Cambridge Dec. 26, 2008; the Jamaica Plain Auto Body on Rock Hill Road April 29, 2009; and a brownstone at 21 Bay State Road in the Back Bay July 31, 2009.
Baez had a connection to each of the places: He quit his job at the supermarket after an argument with the management. He disputed a bill at the body shop, taking the owner to small claims court. Baez lost that case.
Baez had also argued with a dentist whose office was in the Back Bay building, saying he should not have to pay for veneers that the dentist re-cemented. The veneers were originally applied by a different dentist.
Baez knew three people who lived at the Firth Road building and, according to prosecutors, had argued with at least one of them.
Baez used gasoline to start the fires, US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office said.Brian Ballou can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.