May 16 – NEWBURYPORT – A local man who police say wanted to ‘burn the town down, bit by bit’ was sentenced to two years in prison on Monday after pleading guilty to multiple counts in Newburyport District Court .
Brett Henderson, 40, of Merrimac Street, was initially charged with setting fire to a building, disorderly conduct (two counts), assault with a dangerous weapon and attempted arson. The charges relate to two separate incidents, both of which occurred in December 2021.
But in an effort to keep Henderson’s case in district court rather than see him charged and arraigned in Superior Court, the building fire charge was reduced to malicious destruction of property. over $1,200. The attempted arson charge was also reduced to attempted malicious destruction of property.
Henderson was originally sentenced to 2½ years in prison, but saw six months of that sentence suspended for three years while on probation. And while on probation, Henderson must undergo a mental health evaluation and cannot have any incendiary devices. He must also wear a GPS tracking device for at least part of the probation. He was credited for 138 days already served.
During Henderson’s court appearance, Essex County District Attorney Shailagh Kennedy described Henderson to Judge Peter Doyle as a “possible serial arsonist”.
Henderson was first arrested in mid-December 2021 after police said he set fire to a utility shed in Pioneer Park. Weeks later, Henderson was arrested again after he attempted to set fire to a dumpster on Water Street. A friend called him crazy for doing it, prompting Henderson to attack him, according to local police.
Police also believe Henderson started several other small fires in dumpsters and dumpsters around town around the same time last December. Police said he was seen hanging out at the scene of at least three of the fires, a common trait among arsonists.
On December 15, 2021, Henderson was arrested shortly after firefighters responded to Pioneer Park on Merrimac Street to put out a fire in the park’s utility shed. By the time Newburyport Police Inspector Michael Sugrue arrived, Henderson was talking to then-officer Megan Tierney and Parks Department employees.
“Knowing that Henderson had been at the scene of a previous fire, I asked him how long he had been at the park. He told me he had been there all day and was still there,” Sugrue wrote in his report, adding that as he chatted with Henderson, he noticed soot on the front of Henderson’s jacket.
Henderson tried to leave after Sugrue asked if he was carrying lighters.
“He told me he had a lot of lighters on him as he turned to walk away from me,” Sugrue said, adding that Henderson had dropped a lighter on the floor.
Sugrue then asked why Henderson had soot on his jacket. Henderson said it was from smoking cigarettes. But the soot on Henderson’s jacket did not match the ash that would typically come from a tobacco product. Sugrue spoke to a Parks Department employee who confirmed seeing Henderson near the shed shortly before the fire started.
The second incident took place on December 30, 2021 around 11:30 a.m. in the area of 108 Water St. where Henderson and another man were fighting. Officers Charles Vorderis and Matthew Whitty broke up the fight and separated the two men. Henderson told Whitty he had been hit in the head with a rock and wanted to go to the hospital. He also told the officer that he had previously been charged with setting fire to a dumpster, according to Whitty’s report.
Voderis spoke to the other man who was fighting, who told the officer that he and Henderson were friends and were walking together. On an earlier walk, Henderson had told his friend that he wanted to “burn the town down, bit by bit,” Whitty wrote in his report.
During the walk, Henderson asked to borrow his friend’s lighter to light his cigarette. After his friend handed him his lighter, Henderson walked over to a dumpster and attempted to set the contents on fire.
“(The friend) told Mr Henderson he was crazy. Mr Henderson became agitated and charged him down the street. (The friend) said he had tried to defend himself but that Mr. Henderson was much taller than him. Mr. Henderson pushed him against the fence at 108 Water St. and pinned him down,” Whitty wrote in his report, adding that the victim admitted to picking up a rock but not hitting Henderson with it.
Dave Rogers is a reporter for the Daily News in Newburyport. Email him at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.
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