The woman accused of arson in the September 2010 fire that destroyed Mill City’s City Hall had motive for setting the blaze, prosecutors charged on Monday as the trial of Joy Marie Cronin began in Linn County Circuit Court.
In her opening statement, Linn County prosecutor Ani Yardumian told jurors that Cronin, who was the city’s finance officer, had access to large amounts of money and that some of those funds were unaccounted for. An audit was scheduled in three weeks, and Yardumian charged that the only way Cronin could ensure that no one found out that money was missing was to burn down the city hall at 252 S.W. Cedar St.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Paul Kuebrich said Cronin had nothing to do with the fire. He said she stopped by city hall at about 8 p.m. the day of the fire to turn off a light she noticed in the building as she drove by.
He said his client went in through a back door and discovered open doors that shouldn’t have been open and papers scattered about.
Then she heard a noise that she couldn’t describe and the next thing she knew, there was an explosion and she was blown out the back door.
Kuebrich said the fire was caused by vapors that ignited. He said Cronin, who suffered burns, then drove to the sheriff’s substation to report the fire and explosion.
Kuebrich maintained that his client hadn’t stolen any money from the city.
Yardumian said she will call witnesses that place Cronin at city hall 30 minutes before the blaze started. She said that people reported smelling gasoline on the defendant after the fire, and that she could have turned out the light in the building without going all of the way into her office, but instead chose to go quite a ways into the room.
Where she stopped, Yardumian said, the remains of two plastic gas cans were found. Two green tags were discovered in her van that went to the nozzles of two gas cans.
Yardumian said Cronin engaged in some strange behavior following work on the day of the fire. She said Cronin drove to Salem to visit her son but then never stopped at his house.
She returned to Mill City and was on the way to visit a co-worker, getting part way to the woman’s house before deciding it wasn’t polite to visit someone without calling ahead and turning around.
Cronin, who was 47 at the time of the fire, was arrested in August 2011 on a Linn Circuit Court warrant after a grand jury indicted her on three counts of first-degree arson.
She was treated first at Salem Hospital and then transferred to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.
Cronin had been a person of interest in the investigation for months, but the investigation took extra time because of its complexity and the number of agencies involved, Sheriff Tim Mueller said at the time.
Mill City terminated Cronin’s employment in the spring of 2011.
Cronin’s trial continues at 9:30 this morning in courtroom 2. It is expected to last five days.