Accused Norwich arsonist rejects plea offer

A 36-year-old man accused of setting fire to an apartment building at 143-145 Rockwell St. in Norwich three years ago has turned down an offer from the state to plead guilty in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence.

Marwan O. Chankar, 36, who is already serving a 58-month prison sentence for serving as the getaway driver in two bank robberies, wants a trial. He rejected the plea offer this morning during an appearance in New London Superior Court. Judge Hillary B. Strackbein questioned Chankar to ensure he understands he faces a maximum sentence of 50 years if he is found guilty of first-degree arson, first-degree burglary and criminal mischief. He confirmed that he understands.

Police said the July 9, 2011, fire caused about $400,000 in damage and displaced about 10 residents. Five of the city’s fire departments responded to the large blaze, and two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Chankar was charged in September 2011 with serving as the getaway driver when his ex-wife, Tonya Viens, robbed the Dime Savings Bank and Core Plus Credit Union, both in Norwich, in the fall of 2010. The couple had been living out of a purple van and using drugs when they carried out the robberies, according to court testimony. Viens is serving a 55-month sentence.

According to the Department of Correction, Chankar’s maximum release date for those offenses is March 23, 2016. His arson case has been added to the list of cases awaiting trial. Senior Assistant State’s attorney David J. Smith is prosecuting and attorney Theodore Koch is representing Chankar.

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