June 21--Two homeless men accused of setting the Feb. 1 fire that destroyed the remains of the McClung warehouses complex on Jackson Avenue have been indicted on charges of aggravated arson.
Robert Montgomery, 60, and Joey Bryant, 32, also were indicted on charges of trespassing, vandalism and aggravated assault.
Bryant was indicted on an additional charge of assault.
The fire on Jackson Avenue caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage, according to the original warrants charging the two men with setting the blaze.
No trial date has been set.
The case was sent to the grand jury following a preliminary hearing in March.
The building was often used for shelter by homeless people, who would occasionally set pit fires for warmth.
According to testimony presented at the March hearing, witness Tarri Houck was with Bryant, whom she was dating, and Montgomery on the morning of the fire.
The trio were asleep when Bryant woke up Houck and told her the building was on fire, she testified. Montgomery wanted to find water to put the fire out while Bryant wanted the three to flee, according to testimony.
Defense attorneys argued there was no evidence the fire had been set for the purpose of damaging the building.
Knox County General Sessions Court Judge Chuck Cerny ruled there was probable cause for an arson case, but remarked that it was unfortunate that someone could be charged with arson simply because they were trying to stay warm.
Nevertheless, he ruled there was probable cause as the law was written to send the charges to the grand jury.
The case earned Knoxville Police Department Officers Jeff Allgood and Chris Starr "Officer of the Month" honors for their work in identifying the suspects and developing information that led to their arrest.
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