Jury finds man guilty in Waterford reckless burning case

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A six-member jury in New London Superior Court on Tuesday found Mark Capasso Jr. of Waterford guilty of setting a sheet on fire inside his parents' Waterford home on Sept. 4, 2017, and reporting to police that an intruder had entered the home.

Capasso, 34, faces up to six years in prison when he is sentenced April 9 for reckless burning, a felony, and second-degree false reporting of an incident, a misdemeanor. He remains free on a $175,000 bond and is being monitored electronically. He has surrendered his passport and is allowed only to have contact with children under supervision.

Capasso had admitted on the witness stand last week that he set fire to the sheet and poured Sterno fire-starter gel on the floor and furniture, then reported there had been an intruder.

Capasso said he was trying to bring attention to his claim that his ex-wife kidnapped their daughter with the assistance of Chinese authorities. He has self-published a book about it, titled "Chasing Chaya."

Capasso had been working as an English teacher in China, according to testimony. He was staying at his parents' home at 145 Bloomingdale Road in Quaker Hill with his current wife and their two young children, who also were born in China, when the crimes occurred. He said Chinese officials also were giving him a hard time about the citizenship of his two younger children. 

Jurors heard testimony last week from first responders, including Waterford police patrolman Gil Maffeo, who said he had been dispatched to the Capasso home about 2 a.m. that day for a reported home invasion.

At the home, officers found several floors, couches and doors lined with fire-starter gel. They located a candle with a sheet around it and a red bottle of Sterno with its cap off. Capasso said he had been in the basement when he heard something going on upstairs and that the doors, which had been locked, were open. The police found no signs of forced entry, and no footprints in the wet dew around the house.

Capasso eventually told officers he spread the Sterno around the house, lit the sheet on fire, let it burn for 30 seconds and then put it out, according to testimony. He said he did it to take matters into his "own hands" and speed things up with the Chinese government.

At the time, his parents, wife and two young children, ages 1 and 3, were sleeping in upstairs bedrooms.

Under cross-examination by prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla, Capasso said he thought it was a good idea at the time and that he was confident the fire wouldn't get out of control.

"What was your contingency if it got out of control?" Tytla asked.

"I felt that was not a possibility," Capasso said. "I felt confident in my ability to stomp out a sheet on a hard floor."

Defense attorney Theodore Koch conceded during his closing argument to the jury that the state had proved Capasso falsely reported the incident.

He argued, though, that Capasso was not guilty of reckless burning. Koch said, in part, that Capasso purposefully had chosen to use Sterno, which advertises itself as a safe, clean fire-starter, had used a candle to light the sheet and kept it away from other items and had put out the fire after less than a minute.

"He was as cautious as he could be under the circumstances," Koch argued.

The jury of four men and two women deliberated for a half hour Tuesday afternoon before sending a note to Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed at 4:30 p.m. indicating it had reached a verdict.

Several of Capasso's family members accompanied him in the courtroom.

k.florin@theday.com

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