Witness at Maryland Fires Trial Says He Lied

BALTIMORE (AP) -- A prosecution witness who allegedly told investigators that an arson suspect had a ''big'' plan to set something ablaze to gain notoriety for his gang recanted on the stand Wednesday at the federal trial.

Michael Gilbert said he was lying when he told the investigators that Patrick Walsh had tried to recruit him to take part in a plot that resulted in more than two dozen house fires in a subdivision on Dec. 6.

''I was scared. I didn't know what to do,'' Gilbert said. ''The truth wasn't working, so I figured I'd tell them what they wanted to hear and I'd go home.''

Prosecutors allege Walsh was the mastermind behind the fires at the Hunters Brooke subdivision in southern Maryland. No one was injured but the fires caused $10 million in damage.

Gilbert was originally charged in the case, but prosecutors later dropped the charges. He appeared at Walsh's trial under immunity that protected his testimony from prosecution.

During a roughly eight-hour interview Dec. 20 shortly after Walsh was arrested, Gilbert allegedly said Walsh told him he was planning some sort of fire. The Friday before the Hunters Brooke blazes, Walsh told him: ''You know something will go down and it will probably be Sunday,'' according to Gilbert's statement.

Gilbert told investigators he did not take part in the fires.

Walsh is charged with arson and conspiracy for the fires that destroyed 10 houses and damaged another 16. Four other men were indicted and two have pleaded guilty.

One of the two, a former security guard at Hunters Brooke, was to testify at Walsh's trial under a plea agreement. But prosecutor Donna Sanger said Wednesday that he would not appear.