HICKS COLUMN; Here's the deal, arsonists
There are a lot of things that go unsaid at press conferences about criminal investigations.
And there are some things that are pretty clear, if you listen closely enough.
Monday afternoon at Charleston City Hall, the mayor, police and fire chiefs and the sheriff formally announced the arrest of Kenneth Boone on three arson charges and one charge of soliciting arson. They are not quite ready to say he's the guy responsible for the dozens of suspicious fires that have plagued the peninsula over the past decade.
They speculated that Boone, a contractor, may have been trying to drum up business. He apparently did renovations on one of the houses he's accused of burning. And they revealed that a tip put them squarely on Boone's trail.
Still, they declined to answer a number of other questions.
Part of that's the usual ongoing investigation stuff. And part of it is because reporters were not the target audience here. They were talking to people who weren't in City Council chambers.
People who are out there, somewhere.
Read between the lines, and this is what was said at Monday's press conference:
Police believe Boone may be behind more of these arsons and that he very likely had help. And they were subtly offering those accomplices a deal. Everyone who spoke suggested this, but Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen was pretty direct.
“We believe there are others who have important information, and we are asking them to cooperate and benefit from that or face the full range of charges,” Mullen said.
Let's translate: If you helped anyone set a fire downtown, help police build a case and you will be treated fairly, perhaps even leniently.
But if you don't, and they find you, they are not going to be in a very generous mood.
And there's a good chance they will find you.
A matter of time
Mullen noted that Boone was a person of interest in the arson investigation before they got a tip that he was trying to hire someone to help burn a house in Hollywood.
Why were they looking at Boone? They won't say. But he was already a suspect.
If the police made a connection that pointed to Boone, it's only a matter of time before they connect the dots to some of these accomplices — like, for instance, the guy in the police sketch of the arsonist.
Because Boone is not that guy, they admit.
Ultimately, Boone was arrested because someone talked. That's the way it is — these days everyone talks.
And that's what police are banking on. As strong as they say their case is against Boone, they make an even stronger case that they are going to keep looking for accomplices.
Now, those people can gamble that they will get away with it, keep quiet and spend the rest of their days looking over their shoulders. Or they can take a chance based on a subtle deal offered at a press conference.
They shouldn't take too long to decide whether they want to do the right thing. Boone may make his own deal and start naming names.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at blog.postandcourier.com/brians-blog.