AUGUSTA — A former Windsor man charged with two counts of arson related to a fire July 5 that destroyed his former employer’s home allegedly freed the homeowner’s dog before setting the fire, according to court documents.

Joseph P. Manganella, 35, made an initial court appearance Monday at the Capital Judicial Center via video from Kennebec County jail.

Manganella had been arrested Friday in Gardiner and had been held in lieu of $50,000 bail.

Justice Donald Marden set bail at $1,500 cash with the conditions requiring a Maine Pretrial Supervision contract and prohibiting Manganella from contact with the homeowners and from possessing incendiary devices.

Manganella is charged with burning down a 34-foot camper mobile home belonging to Eric and Kristie Baker on Blueberry Hill Lane, apparently to cover up a theft of tools. The Bakers’ three children, ages 7, 5, and eight months, lived there as well.

No one was at home at the time of the blaze, which was reported about 3 p.m. that day, and no one was injured in the fire. The Bakers were living in the camper-trailer on the site while preparing to build a cabin there.

The two charges brought by the Office of State Fire Marshal list alternative forms of arson. One says Manganella intentionally destroyed property, and one says Manganella recklessly endangered a person or property. A conviction carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Investigator Kenneth MacMaster’s affidavit filed in court in support of the arrest says Manganella had last worked for the Bakers, who run a roofing company, about 2 1/2 months ago, and that Manganella stopped by a month ago looking for work.

“When asked, Baker said to the best of his knowledge, Manganella is not upset with him,” MacMaster wrote.

MacMaster interviewed a number of neighbors of the Bakers, and many described seeing a thin, shirtless, very tanned man walking in the area just prior to the fire. One neighbor said she spoke with the man who was accompanied by a Doberman, which is the Bakers’ dog. Others said the man wore a duffel bag like a backpack and carried a pick ax.

Eric Baker told MacMaster that the dog had been locked in the camper trailer prior to the family going to visit Baker’s mother’s home in Pittston and to watch fireworks.

On the day of the fire, Baker said he and the family were at the trailer last at about 10:40 a.m. to pick up a load of scrap copper.

Baker said his pick ax and a large Estwing ax would have been leaning against the outside of the home near the door. MacMaster said he searched the area but failed to find any remnants of burned axes.

MacMaster said that he concluded “the camper would have had to have been forcibly entered to allow for the Doberman dog to escape the fire.”

The camper-trailer, which was not insured, had no electricity except that provided by a generator, and there was no gasoline in the generator or in any cans, Baker said.

MacMaster said an Augusta woman told police that Manganella had come to her home about three hours after the fire carrying a pick ax and a bag he said was full of tools he wanted to sell. The woman said she asked Manganella why he smelled of smoke, and he told her he had a campfire. The woman said she found that odd on such a hot day.

Manganella left with the tools, and the woman later encountered Kristie Baker in a Gardiner store and was told of the fire and the theft of tools.

At MacMaster’s request, she called Manganella to say someone wanted to buy the tools, but Manganella seemed “out of it.” Later, she said he apparently was using drugs and wanted to “get out of town.”

MacMaster said several people selected Manganella’s photo from a lineup as the person they saw in the area just prior to the fire.

Attorney Stephen Bourget, representing Manganella as attorney for the day on Monday, told the judge that Manganella was employed hanging Sheetrock and that he wanted to get back to it so he could support his fiancée and four children. Bourget also said Manganella currently lives with his family in Augusta, not in Windsor as the complaint alleges. The affidavit says Manganella has been living out of a van which he parks in Augusta and Gardiner. Earlier on Monday, a press release from the Maine Department of Public Safety indicated Manganella is from Gardiner.

Marden said he would not ask Manganella to enter a plea because the charges were felonies and needed to be considered by a grand jury.

Manganella, who was seen on a television monitor in court, wore a short-sleeved, two-piece green jail uniform.

He said he had yet to get an attorney, but he had filled out an application for a court-appointed lawyer.

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Tracy DeVoll, sought $5,000 cash bail with conditions.

Bourget asked for $500 bail with a Maine Pretrial Services supervisory contract.

DeVoll said that was too low, adding, “It does not reflect the seriousness of the charges.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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