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Man Pleads No Contest To Setting Buses on Fire

Robert Duprey speaks with Constance Keresey. a private licensed investigator, after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of setting fire to a school bus and a misdemeanor of unlawful mischief in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on April 2, 2014. Duprey's defense attorney Sandra Nelson is on the right. Keresey has been hired by Nelson to work on Duprey's case. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Robert Duprey speaks with Constance Keresey. a private licensed investigator, after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of setting fire to a school bus and a misdemeanor of unlawful mischief in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on April 2, 2014. Duprey's defense attorney Sandra Nelson is on the right. Keresey has been hired by Nelson to work on Duprey's case. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — A White River Junction man pleaded no contest to setting fire to three school buses owned by Butler’s Bus Service, and under the conditions of the plea agreement, he was able to walk out of jail on Wednesday for the first time in eight months.

Robert Duprey, 27, was arrested in August 2013 and charged with two felony counts of third-degree arson and unlawful mischief greater than $1,000 for setting fire to buses at Butler’s White River Junction location on Pine Street.

The bus company estimated that the fire caused about $200,000 worth of damages.

But the charges were amended on Wednesday to misdemeanor counts of setting fires and unlawful mischief.

Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said the state strongly believes Duprey committed the crimes, but proving it at trial could have been difficult.

“We acknowledge this wasn’t a case where the defendant was caught in the act and that we would be relying on the interviews of others,” Cahill said during the hearing.

After a year of investigating, police found Duprey at the scene of the fire on August 26, 2012. Duprey told police at the time that he was walking to his job at the Valley News — he was a part-time employee in the mailroom from November 2010 to August 2013 — when he heard “coughing” in the area and saw “what he believed to be ‘sparks’ or someone flicking a lighter,” according to a police affidavit.

In the 12 months that followed, police spoke to several friends of Duprey’s, including his former girlfriend, who said Duprey had told her that he set the fire.

In addition, Duprey’s former girlfriend told police that Duprey liked to set fires, and another friend told police that Duprey liked to play with fire and would light paper on fire during smoke breaks when he was at the Upper Valley Haven.

“In the state’s view, the type of evidence that would be most compelling to an ordinary person would be Mr. Duprey’s lengthy history of setting fires,” Cahill said after the hearing, “however, based upon case law and the rules of evidence, it is unlikely that the court would allow a jury to hear about Mr. Duprey’s other acts of setting fires.”

Duprey was sentenced to serve 158 to 160 days in prison, but he received credit for 160 days that he has served in jail since August. At the time of his August arraignment, his bail was set at $50,000, and because Duprey could not pay it, he remained incarcerated at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt.

During the hearing, Duprey stood next to his attorney, Sandra Nelson, and did not speak. He wore a navy blue shirt and pants and he had shackles hanging from his wrists and ankles.

Once the hearing was over, he was escorted out of the courtroom by a police officer and taken into a conference room where his shackles were removed.

Duprey declined to comment after the hearing.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.