Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Berwick woman convicted of arson

Gail Schneider, 44, found to have set Conyngham fire that caused $1.3 million in damage.

April 24. 2013 11:30PM

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WILKES-BARRE — A Berwick woman was convicted Wednesday on seven charges relating to a September 2010 fire in Conyngham that caused $1.3 million in damage.

Gail Schneider, 44, was found guilty of five counts of arson, one count of reckless burning and one count of criminal mischief after a Luzerne County jury deliberated for about 90 minutes.

Prosecutors say Schneider set the blaze in retaliation for being evicted from the Lantern Lane, South Main Street, building in September 2009 after an incident with her neighbor, Nicole Buak.

Schneider’s attorneys argued during the seven-day trial that the fire was not intentionally set but rather was caused by an electrical problem in the building.

“I have a sense of peace … and closure,” Buak said after hearing the verdict. “Justice was served today. I don’t have to live in fear anymore.”

Prosecutors say Schneider was evicted from the building after Buak had called the police on Schneider twice one evening complaining of noise. Buak testified during the trial that she saw Schneider near her vehicle and then run away. She went to see why Schneider was near her vehicle when she noticed the word “die” carved into her door and then a scratch on her vehicle.

“I’m very glad today is over with,” Buak said. “It was hard to watch everything you’ve worked for … just go away.”

Assistant District Attorney Shannon Crake requested that Schneider’s bail be revoked and that she be taken to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility because of her conviction.

“She is a danger to the community. … She is a flight risk,” Crake said. “I’m concerned for the safety of the victims in this case.”

County Judge David Lupas said that for those reasons he was granting Crake’s request.

Schneider was handcuffed in the courtroom and later taken by the sheriff’s department to the county prison, where she will remain until she is sentenced on June 24.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” Crake said of the verdict and for the closure it brings to everyone involved. “The responsible party is being held accountable. It’s relief.”

Crake said arson cases are among the hardest to try, and she is thankful for the work of Cpl. Shawn Hilbert and Trooper James Surmick. “It was a team effort,” she said.

Schneider testified Tuesday she did not start the fire, and although she had some problems with Buak and the owner of the property, Kenneth Temborski, she had moved on with her life.

Schneider said she endured a “nightmare interrogation” by officers and was being accused of setting the blaze because of coincidences. She had gone to a Conyngham bar that night and just happened to be in the area.

But she said nothing as she left the courthouse early Wednesday evening. Her attorneys left the courthouse soon after the verdict was read.

Temborski,who had to rebuild the Lantern Lane building, but with only one floor and four tenants as opposed to two floors and eight tenants before the fire, said he also is glad the case is over after almost three years.

“There are no winners here. Hopefully, we can get on with our lives,” Temborski said. “This isn’t a win — it’s justice.”


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