A Brookline man was acquitted of arson by a Norfolk Superior Court jury Monday in the burning of a condemned house in Brookline, a verdict that came after the star prosecution witness was cross-examined by a veteran defense attorney for three days.
Alan F. Kaplan had been accused by Norfolk prosecutors of agreeing to pay Steven McCann, who set the fire, from an $800,000 insurance policy Kaplan expected to collect once the Spooner Road house, which had been condemned for violating zoning rules, was destroyed.
McCann, who pleaded guilty to arson as part of an agreement to testify against Kaplan, suffered burns on more than 25 percent of his body when he used accelerant on July 26, 2013, to start the fire that consumed a house Kaplan and his partners once hoped to sell for $2 million.
During Kaplan’s trial, McCann was cross-examined for three days by defense attorney Max D. Stern. Stern said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he was able to repeatedly attack McCann’s credibility by using his own words against him.
“I have never had a case like this where somebody was proven to [have said], and admitted to, so many lies,’’ Stern said of McCann. “It was totally amazing what he admitted.”
As examples, Stern said McCann called himself a “GI Joe” who had seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in the Marine Corps. Records showed, however, that McCann was not in combat in Iraq and was in a building monitoring radio transmissions while in Afghanistan.
Stern also said jurors were provided a transcript of a telephone conversation McCann had with a friend while he was in jail awaiting trial. Such conversations are routinely taped by jail officials. McCann said Kaplan was innocent and it would be wrong for McCann to testify for the prosecution, Stern noted.
“If I tell them that somebody hired me to do it, then they get to take down two people. And nobody hired me to do anything,’’ McCann said in a transcript of the call provided by Stern. “So why would I, why would I do that to somebody who didn’t do anything?’’
Stern said Kaplan and McCann did meet before the fire and said Kaplan did tell McCann he was facing financial pressure because the town had ordered the house torn down after years of litigation with neighbors in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. But, Stern said, Kaplan never asked McCann to set the house on fire for him.
Kaplan was overjoyed by the acquittal, Stern said. Kaplan, the former owner of the Village Smokehouse in Brookline, was arrested in September 2015 and has been free on bail.
David Traub, spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey’s office, said prosecutors “as always respect the jury’s verdict.”
He noted that before trial, a Superior Court judge had refused to dismiss the case even when presented with McCann’s jailhouse conversations because there was other evidence linking the two men, including text messages exchanged around the time of the fire.
McCann is to be sentenced Wednesday in Norfolk Superior Court. Prosecutors will ask that he be sentenced to the six months he spent in jail awaiting trial.John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.