Published April 23. 2014 4:00AM
A woman who became the subject of a national debate after she was convicted of exposing students at Norwich's Kelly Middle School to pornographic images in 2004 has been charged with setting fire to her Windham home last year in order to collect insurance proceeds.
State police detectives allege in an arrest warrant affidavit that Julie Amero-Volle, a 47-year-old Mystic native, was desperate for money and on a heroin binge when she staged a burglary and used fireworks to ignite her home at 279 Indian Hollow Road in the early-morning hours of Aug. 27, 2013. She was charged April 7 with first-degree arson, providing a false statement and insurance fraud. She posted a $50,000 bond and has not yet entered a plea in the case, which is being heard in Superior Court in Danielson. Her next court date is May 19.
The Windham Fire Department, called to the scene at 1:15 a.m., extinguished the blaze, but the entire second floor sustained damage. Investigators ruled the fire was intentionally set in a center bedroom located on the second floor. Amero-Volle blamed the fire on two of her former students at Windham High School, whom she said were drug addicts who occasionally stayed at her home and with whom she had used cocaine in the past.
It was unclear whether Amero-Volle was employed at Windham High School at the time of her arrest. The school's personnel and communications officers could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Amero-Volle had received national attention after a Norwich jury convicted her in 2006 of four counts of risk of injury to a minor. The state alleged she intentionally exposed students to pornographic images while substitute teaching in a seventh-grade class at Kelly Middle School. Several students testified about seeing sexual images of women on the screen of the computer that Amero-Volle was using. The defense argued the images were pop-ups that she could not close. Professors and computer experts came to her defense, and the case was portrayed on national TV news and talk shows.
Amero-Volle's conviction was set aside in 2007 based on information that the jury may have received erroneous evidence. Facing another trial, she pleaded guilty six months later to the reduced charge of disorderly conduct. She paid a $100 fine and agreed to give up her teaching license.
Amero-Volle's husband, Wes Volle, who had strenuously supported her while her Internet porn case was pending, died in 2011. A real estate agent told investigators Amero-Volle had been trying to sell her house for more than a year and had reduced the price three times leading up to the fire, according to the warrant affidavit. Her real estate agent told investigators Amero-Volle had received an offer of $189,000 on the day before the fire and she had unexpectedly raised the price by $10,000. She filed an insurance claim after the fire and was set to receive a possible total payout of $312,500, according to the affidavit.
The new case against her involves several witnesses in their late teens or early 20s who told investigators they used drugs with her and that she had talked about staging a burglary, burning the house down to collect insurance proceeds and selling her guns.
One witness, identified as a 22-year-old male, told detectives he went to Amero-Volle's house around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 looking for a friend who usually stayed there, according to the affidavit. He said Amero-Volle asked if he had any drugs. He said he gave her 10 bags of heroin that were meant for his friend and that she used all of them. He said Amero-Volle drove him to Mansfield and on the way back, pulled a gun out of her purse, placed it on her chest and said, "Let's go shoot some people tonight." He said she was acting crazy and driving at speeds of 80 to 90 mph and that she dropped him off in Willimantic about 12:30 a.m.
Amero-Volle told first responders to the fire that she had brought her dog to a neighbor's house and watched a movie that night. She said as she was walking down the neighbor's driveway after the movie ended she noticed flames coming out of a second-story bedroom of her home. She said she entered the home to find a sliding glass door open, a television knocked over, a closet ripped off its hinges in the master bedroom and dresser drawers open.
The neighbor initially confirmed that Amero-Volle was at her house that night but later told investigators that Amero-Volle called her, told her the house was on fire and asked her to tell police the two of them had been watching a movie together. She and other neighbors reported that Amero-Volle often set off fireworks at her house and that they had heard or seen fireworks before the fire.
Investigators found evidence of fireworks in the room where the fire started, but a photograph of the room taken by the potential buyer seven hours before the fire was reported does not show any fireworks in the room, according to the affidavit.
Confronted by police the day after the fire, Amero-Volle admitted she had lied about watching a movie with the neighbor and admitted to using heroin that night and placing a gun on her chest. She admitted she had been trying to sell her guns and vehicle but denied setting the fire or staging a burglary.