Plea deal offered in Shamokin arson
SHAMOKIN - An accused arsonist charged in a Jan. 28 fire that destroyed two buildings on East Sunbury Street (Route 61) has been offered a plea agreement by the county district attorney's office, according to his attorney.
Northumberland County Conflicts Counsel John Broda said the agreement calls for James L. Neidlinger Jr., 21, of 203 E. Dewart St., to plead guilty to two felony counts of arson involving reckless burning. Broda said he needs to discuss the deal with his client before making a decision.
Neidlinger, who waived his right to a preliminary hearing on multiple arson-related offenses Tuesday before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III, had his request for a bail reduction denied and was recommitted to the county jail in lieu of $200,000 cash bail.
At his hearing, Neidlinger appeared calm, but a little confused about what waiving the case to the Court of Common Pleas meant. Gembic explained it meant forfeiting his right to a hearing and that he would be ordered to appear for plea court March 25 at the county courthouse, Neidlinger nodded to the judge that he understood.
At his next scheduled court appearance, Neidlinger can plead guilty or no contest, or seek a trial by pleading not guilty.
The defendant showed little emotion while briefly appearing before the judge in an orange county prison jumpsuit, a green hooded sweatshirt and sneakers.
He was among approximately 20 defendants to go before Gembic during his criminal court day and was secured in a detaining area outside the courtroom with several other defendants. His arms and legs remained shackled throughout the hearing and his detainment.
Unlike his arraignment last week, Neidlinger's court appearance did not draw a lot of spectators and he reportedly was not heckled by anyone upon entering and exiting Gembic's courtroom or the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center where the judge's office is located.
Neidlinger is charged by Shamokin Patrolman and Fire Investigator Raymond Siko II with multiple felonies including two counts of risking a catastrophe, arson and related offenses endangering a building; arson of an uninhabited or unoccupied building; arson of an uninhabited or unoccupied building causing more than $5,000 damage; criminal mischief damaging tangible property; and criminal trespass-entering a structure. He also faces a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass-simple trespass.
Contacted after the hearing, Siko reserved comment when asked if Neidlinger was a suspect in several other arson fires in the city.
"We are still actively pursuing the other arson investigations and conducting interviews," he said.
The officer urged the public to come forward if they have any information regarding the other fires.
Neidlinger, even if he raised bail, would remain in prison on a probation detainer.
He was sentenced Nov. 19 to 18 months probation after pleading guilty to a charge of forgery for allegedly stealing five checks from the mailboxes of Kulpmont residents on April 11 and forging the checks in an attempt to cash them at Susquehanna Bank. Police said the checks totaled $283.44.
Neidlinger told police he was frustrated and angry over fights he had with his girlfriend days before the fire, and that's why he stuffed leaves and branches in a rear doorway at an abandoned apartment building and lit them on fire at about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 28.
The fire raged for more than two hours at 604-608 E. Sunbury St., destroying the building and damaging a home next door.