BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A Peabody man, angry that his buddy wouldn’t let him hide out in his Salem apartment after he was caught shoplifting, returned and set fire to a basement closet Tuesday night, officials say.
Jamie Block, 33, of 14 Whitney Drive, pleaded not guilty to charges of arson, possession of clonazepam and third-offense shoplifting during his arraignment in Salem District Court yesterday.
Prosecutor Lars Trautman, who asked for $20,000 in bail on Block, said police were called shortly after 8 p.m. by a Mason Street man and then found the man near the corner of Mason and Flint streets holding Block down.
The man told police that Block, a friend for the past decade or so, had shown up at his house claiming that he was being chased by an employee of the nearby Citgo gas station who had caught Block shoplifting, the prosecutor told Judge Robert Brennan.
The friend said he didn’t want any part of it and asked Block to leave.
Block did, but returned moments later and was again asked to leave.
This time, however, the friend told police, he didn’t hear the outside door close. When he went downstairs, he saw flames 3 feet high coming from a closet that was used to store old paint cans and cardboard boxes of other items.
The man put the fire out with a garden hose, then ran outside and spotted Block. He cornered the man and then held him down until police arrived.
Police found charred boxes, a still-running garden hose and water in the closet. And they found two lighters on Block after his arrest.
The prosecutor also said Block has a history of missing court dates.
Defense lawyer Edward McNaught challenged the friend’s story, suggesting it didn’t make sense that the friend would have had time to find and put out the fire, then find Block down the street. He said Block insisted the fire was started with a lit cigarette.
He also pointed to a large bruise on Block’s eye, suggesting there was more to the story, perhaps a fight between the two men.
And while Block has a seven-page record, six pages are a single credit-card fraud case, the lawyer said.
As for the pills, McNaught said that Block takes them for “major back problems.”
Judge Robert Brennan set bail at $5,000 cash, noting the allegations and Block’s record.
A probable cause hearing is scheduled for Oct. 23.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.