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Accused San Jose Arsonist Admits To Lighting 13 Fires, DA Says

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Serial arson suspect Patrick Brennan (center) appears in a San Jose courtroom, January 17, 2014. (CBS)

Serial arson suspect Patrick Brennan (center) appears in a San Jose courtroom, January 17, 2014. (CBS)

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SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – A convicted arsonist suspected of setting 13 recent fires that damaged $6 million of property near downtown San Jose has admitted to police that he set all of the fires, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Patrick William Brennan, 48, of San Jose, led San Jose police to the locations of each of the 13 fires and explained how he ignited them after he was arrested on suspicion of arson Wednesday night, according to a police report filed Friday by prosecutors.

“It should be noted that Brennan stated he was responsible for each of the following arsons and he actually walked us through each of the arsons,” wrote San Jose police Detective Jesus Mendoza.

“Brennan described how he ignited paper bags or debris located at the scene with a cigarette lighter at each of the following locations,” Mendoza said in the report. “Brennan knew the details on how, where and when each of the fires were started.”

The suspect, the officer wrote, “stated he knew several of the homes were occupied and he knew the residents were being placed in danger. Brennan stated he knew right from wrong and he knew what he was doing was wrong.”

Mendoza’s report also mentioned that police identified Brennan thanks to a witness who had been walking his dog around 4:10 a.m. last Friday when he saw a fire at 101 S. 24th St. and called 911 on his cellphone to report it.

After police and firefighters arrived, the witness said he noticed a man looking toward the fire on South 24th Street and who walked past him just as the witness noticed a second fire nearby at 1165 Peach St., the officer stated.

The witness talked to the man, who said he knew nothing about the fire, and walked away. The witness then phoned 911 to report the second fire, and eventually identified the man as Brennan from a photo lineup of six images provided by police, according to Mendoza.

A second witness, who was driving in her car last Sunday, stated she saw the male suspect holding a long lighter while crouching over a fire at 102 S. 24th St., and she later picked Brennan’s photo out of the lineup of six images, Mendoza said.

The police report was part of a statement of facts used by prosecutors for multiple felony charges against Brennan, who was arraigned today in Superior Court in San Jose where a judge ordered him held without bail.

Brennan is charged with 10 counts of arson and three counts of attempted arson in fires that damaged or destroyed structures, including six that had been occupied, according to the district attorney’s office.

No one was injured or killed in the arsons, but they caused property damage amounting to $6 million, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said.

The 13 fires Brennan is charged with setting in San Jose were ignited between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. between Jan. 8 and Jan. 10 in the area between Santa Clara and William streets and between 17th and 33rd streets and then two others in the same area on Sunday morning.

The first fire was on Jan. 8, which caused $75,000 of damage at the Greater Saint John Baptist Church, located at 1230 E. San Antonio Road, after Brennan told police he ignited boxes with a lighter and placed the boxes under a portable classroom building, prosecutors said.

Brennan admitted to setting five fires on Jan. 9, including a three-alarm blaze reported at 2:09 a.m. at a home at 123 E. 17th St., from which an elderly couple barely escaped unharmed and caused $500,000 in damage, according to the police report.

For that fire, Brennan said he used his lighter to light a paper bag on a chair on the front porch of the home and watched the chair catch fire, according to the police report.

Brennan said he was responsible for another fire reported at 5:36 a.m. on Jan. 9 at a 125,000-square-foot warehouse at North 28th and Julian streets, the officer stated.

Brennan told police he used his lighter to ignite a paper bag and debris he placed under the warehouse next to a loading dock. The fire, which turned into a massive five-alarm blaze, resulted in $5 million in damages, according to police.

Some of the fires Brennan admitted he started caused only $200 to $1,000 of damage, but a home he lit on fire—using only a paper bag and his lighter—at 797 E. St. John St. last Saturday sustained $1 million in damage, police said.

Brennan, who was convicted of two arsons going back to 1999 and is both a registered arsonist and sex offender, faces multiple life terms if he is convicted, Rosen said.

“We charged him with these crimes because we believe he knew what he was doing when he committed these crimes,” Rosen said.

The defendant appeared at his arraignment Friday afternoon, wearing glasses and brown and red jail clothes, before Judge Sharon Chatman, who set his plea hearing for Feb. 6.

Brennan said nothing as his public defender, Charlie Henderson, spoke for him to Chatman.

The judge agreed to a request by deputy district attorney Bud Porter to have Brennan, who was arrested on Wednesday on $1 million bail, to be held without bail at the Santa Clara County Main Jail.

After the hearing, Porter said that evidence would show that Brennan “would gather combustible materials in the areas of the fires and use an open flame device that he had at his disposal, such as a lighter, to light the structures on fire.”

“Sometimes the structures caught fire, sometimes they didn’t,” Porter said.

Porter declined to speculate on what may have been the defendant’s motive for setting the fires, saying that the prosecution only had to prove that he did light them, “not why he did.”

Specifically, prosecutors charged Brennan with six counts of arson on an inhabited structure; three counts of arson of a structure; three counts of attempting to set a fire; and one count of arson on a property.

San Jose police Sgt. Heather Randol said Brennan was previously convicted of arson in connection with a series of 16 deliberately set blazes in Santa Clara County in 1999.

Brennan served a couple of years in county jail after he was convicted of two counts of arson in that case, according to Rosen.

Porter said that Brennan was placed on a registry for people who have to register with police agencies as a convicted arsonist.

Brennan, who also has a conviction from a sexual battery charge, is on California’s Megan’s Law list of sexual offenders, according to the state’s Department of Justice website.

Prosecutors also reported Friday that Brennan had been convicted of assault with the intent to commit rape.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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