A former Putnam County resident who pleaded guilty to the 1988 arson of a home near Cloverdale is at the center of the investigation into last month's burning of the Bridgeton covered bridge.
Jesse Lee Payne, 34, currently of Vigo County, is being held in the Parke County Jail awaiting charges that he intentionally set the fire that destroyed the historic Parke County covered bridge on April 28. The fire left the bridge in ruins and residents vowing to rebuild.
Last week, Parke County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Eddie McHargue anticipates the prosecutor will charge Payne with arson.
"For now the investigation is ongoing and I'm continuing to interview witnesses," McHargue said, adding that he is investigating whether Payne made a stop at the BP gas station in Groveland prior to the bridge incident last Thursday.
Following the burning of the bridge at Bridgeton at around 2 a.m. April 28, police found Payne in the vicinity of the covered bridge at Mansfield. He was taken into police custody for violation of parole based on previous criminal convictions.
Included in Payne's criminal history is arson in southern Putnam County.
According to court documents on file at the Putnam County Courthouse, Payne was 18 years old in September 1988 when he was arrested on charges of arson, burglary and theft of a home owned by Francis Weaver, located four miles west of Cloverdale on Burma Road.
Written transcripts of Payne's testimony in court show the then-teenager admitted to being at the rural home along with several friends where they stole mirrors, a microwave oven and a rocking chair before setting the home on fire. At the time, Payne testified he thought the building was abandoned.
Just prior to going to trial in the matter in August 1989, Payne changed his plea to guilty in exchange for having the charges of theft and burglary against him dropped. He was sentenced in Putnam Circuit Court to serve 10 years in prison with four of those suspended.
It was unclear from court records how much of that sentence Payne actually served, but further search of his record indicated he was convicted of burglary in Madison County in July 1993. His probation was revoked at that time.
Additionally, book-in rec-ords at the Putnam County Jail show Payne was lodged in the jail off and on between 1983 and 2004.
Arson of a dwelling is a class B felony which carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.