Accused church arsonists seeking plea agreement

Alex J. Harrington Jr., left, and Joseph T. Skochelak, were arrested Dec. 8.  (Delaware State News file photos)

Alex J. Harrington Jr., left, and Joseph T. Skochelak, were arrested Dec. 8. (Delaware State News file photos)

DOVER — Plea negotiations are ongoing in a felony arson case involving three rural churches that burned in the Felton area last December, lawyers said Wednesday.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

In Kent County Superior Court, the case involving co-defendants Joseph T. Skochelak and Alex J. Harrington Jr. was placed in a state of control by Judge Robert B. Young, and the prosecution wasn’t arranging witness appearances at this point as the trial date nears.

“We’re close to a resolution of the case,” said defense lawyer Adam Windett, representing Mr. Harrington, to Judge Young.

“(I) think it’s going to be resolved next week and ask for a (state of control) so the state doesn’t have to call witnesses.”

The Healing Hands Christian Church along Berrytown Road near Felton was destroyed in the fire. (Delaware State News file photo by Dave Chambers)

The Healing Hands Christian Church along Berrytown Road near Felton was destroyed in the fire. (Delaware State News file photo by Dave Chambers)

Said Public Defender Deborah Carey, representing Mr. Skochelak, “We are negotiating (and) we are making progress, (but) we are just not there yet.”

Mr. Skochelak, 26, of Felton, and Mr. Harrington, 27, of Frederica, earlier pleaded not guilty to charges after alleged arsons on Dec. 2 at Healing Hands Christian Church, Manship Chapel and Laws Mennonite Church.

The co-defendants, currently held by the Delaware Department of Correction, were not in court Wednesday morning for the final case review that lasted approximately five minutes.

A trial tentatively is set to commence at 9 a.m. Monday, pending any developments affecting the case. Deputy Attorney General Marie Graham is prosecuting for the Delaware Department of Justice.

On Feb. 2, both defendants where indicted by a Kent County grand jury on charges of second-degree arson (three counts), third-degree burglary (four counts), second-degree conspiracy (four counts), misdemeanor theft and criminal mischief.

In addition to the alleged arsons last December, the co-defendants also were arrested by Delaware State Police after an alleged burglary at the St. James AME Church in Frederica on Dec. 1 or 2, officials said.

When announcing the alleged arsons on Dec. 2, the Fire Marshal’s office said $75,000 in damage was done to Healing Hands Christian Church in the 500 block of Berrytown Road, $10,000 to Laws Mennonite Church on Carpenter Bridge Road at the intersection of Canterbury Road and $1,000 to Manship Chapel in the 4900 block of Burnite Mill Road.

The Fire Marshal said the Felton Community Fire Company first responded to Healing Hands Christian Church just before 2 a.m. and was at the scene when called to Manship Chapel for another structure fire shortly after 2 a.m.

The Laws Mennonite Church blaze was reported shortly before 5:30 a.m.

At the time of the arrests, state police said sometime during the night of Dec. 1 into Dec. 2, St. James AME Church allegedly was burglarized after entry was made through a rear window.

According to authorities, ceremonial garments (robes) were placed near the altar and a metal box with papers of no value inside was taken by whomever had entered.

On Dec. 6 the ATF announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of anyone responsible for the alleged arsons.

Mr. Skochelak and Mr. Harrington were arrested on Dec. 8, the Delaware State Marshal’s office said at the time, after a cooperative investigation that included the Delaware State Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Fire Marshal’s office said Mr. Harrington was arrested in the High Point Mobile Home Park near Magnolia at the same time Mr. Skochelak was taken into custody in a Dover apartment complex.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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