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Layton reaches deal in death of firefighter

Friday, February 13, 2004

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) -- A man charged with murder in the death of a firefighter killed while fighting an arson fire agreed to plead guilty to a lesser count.

In exchange for admitting he was an accessory to the crime, Byron Layton III will receive a 30-year sentence if a judge accepts terms of the plea agreement at a March 12 hearing.

Layton, 33, pleaded guilty Thursday to aiding, inducing or causing three offenses of arson resulting in bodily injury.

Prosecutors said that Layton set fire to Russell's Garage and Body auto shop in September 2002, destroying the Terre Haute business. Layton had been a mechanic at the shop.

Fire Capt. Ralph Stott was killed and two other firefighters were injured when the roof collapsed after an explosion at the shop. Stott had been with the department for more than 20 years.

Police suggested Layton set the fire to help a friend and co-worker who had complained about their boss.

Layton's attorney, Jim Organ, said Thursday that his client did not set the fire. Others were responsible, Organ said, declining to identify them. He would not say what role Layton played.

Thursday's plea agreement came 11 days before Layton was to stand trial. The agreement requires that Layton provide a statement to authorities and cooperate and testify truthfully in any prosecution against anyone else who may be charged.

Had he been convicted of murder, Layton could have faced up to 65 years in prison.

So far, no one else has been charged. Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts declined to comment on prospects for additional charges.

Police Cpl. Trey Gilbert, the lead detective in the case, said he believes more information exists that has yet to be disclosed to police. He declined further comment because of the ongoing investigation.



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