Melissa Webb Brown, 34, pleaded not guilty to a felony count of arson and was released on conditions she not have contact with Jayson Gargiulo, 19, of West Main Street. Gargiulo pleaded not guilty to the same charge in October and was released on similar conditions. His case is still pending.
According to an affidavit by Bennington police, on Aug. 19 they met with members of the Bennington Rural Fire Department and the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit at the burned double wide mobile home. According to police, the home's doors had all been locked and the fire appeared to have started in the living room where there were two holes burned in the floor. A dog trained to detect the use of fire accelerants had alerted investigators to that spot in the living room.
Police said Brown arrived at the home while they were looking it over and she told them she is currently going through Chapter 7 bankruptcy and does not live in the home. She had gone there to get a package from her attorney.
According to the neighbors who reported the fire, they heard branches breaking near the house and went to investigate, then left after seeing it was a man and a woman, not a bear as they had thought. Later they also saw a vehicle at the house despite knowing no one had lived there since November 2011 and the electricity had been shut off.
Police said Brown told them she and Gargiulo go to the home daily to check their mail and had seen tire marks in the yard. They also reported having "issues" with people as of late. Police said both Brown and Gargiulo told similar stories, denied smoking in the home, and denied involvement with the fire.
According to Bennington Police Detective Sgt. David S. Rowland, he talked to both Brown and Gargiulo multiple times. He said on his second talk with Brown she mentioned obtaining a $500 check from her attorney that was mailed to the home. He said this was the first time she mentioned the check, and it did not match what Gargiulo told him about not having money for clothes shopping. He wrote that later when he talked to Gargiulo, Gargiulo claimed to have had a seizure on that day and gone to the hospital, and that was the first time he'd mentioned that detail to police.