Suspect’s Lawyer Plans Mental Defense In Arson Case

By Clint Parker

Buncombe County – Justin Edward Caristo, the man accused of setting fire to the French Broad School, made a brief appearance in a Buncombe County Courtroom last week. Caristo appeared in court last Thursday (Feb. 28th) in connection with the February 5th blaze that destroyed the nearly 100-year-old community icon of a building.

Caristo was brought into the courtroom in an orange inmate jumpsuit behind the closed, cage-like window where defendants in custody make their appearance. Buncombe District Court Judge Patricia Kaufmann-Young presided over the case where he waived his right to a court-appointed lawyer and stated that he had retained a lawyer to defend him in the case.

His lawyer, Buncombe County criminal attorney Stephen Lindsay, spoke with the Tribune after a member of Lindsey’s legal firm represented Caristo in court Thursday morning.

“Arson cases are cases I’ve handled many of over the years. I’ve been practicing over 30 years…Certainly part of what you have to bring to the table when you represent someone who has been charged with arson is a very strong recognition of how serious the crime actually is,” Lindsey told the Tribune.

He went on to say, “There’s concern for, you know, the people who lived in the building and their safety which was called into question. You know a major fire. Fires kill people…just not residents, but firemen and emergency personnel who respond.” At the time of the fire, the building was not approved for residential occupation, a fact which Lindsey addressed with the Tribune when asked if people were living at the school. “People would conclude that. My information is that that’s true and I think that there were other people living there too while the renovations were going on. Maybe a little prematurely. Things weren’t really ready to pass code and move in, but it’s my understanding that people were actually staying there.

“One of the things you have to appreciate is just how serious arson truly is, when you think about what your client is charged with,” Lindsey explained. “You take stock…was anybody hurt? Thank God, in this case, nobody was.”

Lindsey continued to elaborate on his line of thinking in his client’s case. “After you look at that and you can assess there hasn’t been injury to somebody when you approach these things you want to make sure that you approach them in a very serious way because someone could have been. Then you try to find out why this happened.”

Editor’s note: To read the rest of this article be sure to pick-up tomorrow’s newspaper.

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