Case Snapshot
Case ID: 19238
Classification: Burning - Fire or Fireworks
Animal: cat, dog (non pit-bull)
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Prosecutor(s): Joseph Simmons
Defense(s): Michael J. Gilliatt, John J. Roemer
Judge(s): Vito Virzi, Janet Kenton-Walker

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Friday, Jan 13, 2012

County: Worcester

Disposition: Alleged

Alleged: Joseph E. Mullen

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

Bob and Kathy Benoit lost virtually every valuable they owned when their home at 23 Countryside Rd. in Grafton was destroyed Jan. 13 in a raging fire.

But they are most anguished about three treasures they lost that they consider priceless: their two shih tzu dogs, siblings Emmie and Benji, and their cat, Grey.

With support from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the family is fighting to have charges of animal cruelty added to the case against the alleged arsonist, who reportedly was infatuated with the Benoits' daughter.

"They did nothing but give unconditional love,'' Bob Benoit said of his beloved pets. "We want this for them.''

The animals were his first thought when he got word at his company, The Print Centre in Needham, that his home was on fire.

Knowing that no one was in the home that time of day, he asked a neighbor to break in and rescue the pets. But the intense smoke and heat drove the man back.

While the house was still smoldering, Joseph E. Mullen, 29, of 27 Stowe Rd., Grafton, was charged with arson of a dwelling, breaking and entering in the daytime for a felony and destruction of property over $250.

He was denied bail and was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital, where he is still being held. He is scheduled to return to Westborough District Court Feb. 13, according to Timothy Connolly, spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early.

Mullen allegedly broke into the home, poured gasoline on a couch and set it ablaze, according to court documents.

The dogs were contained in a room and apparently succumbed to smoke inhalation. The cat was not found.

Kathy Benoit loved the dogs so much that she cannot talk about them. She was known in the neighborhood for the regular walks she took with the pair.

Emmie slept at Bob Benoit's side and "snored like a drunken sailor,'' he said, chuckling in the midst of an emotional conversation. Benji was "attached to my wife's ankles,'' he said.

"Everybody loved them,'' he said.

The two dogs, who spent their last agonizing moments together, were inseparable, he said. Grey would knock treats off the counter for the dogs, and the three would romp around the house together.

A second cat, officially named Carmen but now known as the Miracle Cat, was found alive, four hours after the blaze. The cat was apparently hiding in the basement the entire time.

Building Inspector Robert Berger brought the cat into an ambulance and helped give the feline much-needed oxygen before the animal could be brought to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Having Carmen survive was "wonderful,'' Benoit said. "She's one of the only things from our past that we have.''

His dogs weren't so lucky. An excavator friend helped dig a grave as a final resting place for the dogs who greeted Benoit at the door every day when he returned from work.

Benoit wrapped each dog in one of his shirts before laying them to rest.

"That was the hardest day of my life,'' he said.

He visits the grave every day. While he is there, he calls for Grey. The cat's remains were never found, so he hopes for a second miracle.

If that does not happen, he is sorry he was unable to provide Grey with "the burial that he deserves.''

Benoit is angry that the man charged with setting the fire knew there were pets inside and heard the dogs barking.

With support from family and friends, the Benoits are working on an effort to gather signatures urging that animal cruelty be added to the charges. A website is being created for this purpose.

There are criminal charges of animal cruelty that can be filed in certain circumstances, Connolly said. He does not know if they will be filed in this case, he said. "We have to evaluate the facts,'' he said.

Benoit hopes to get two more dogs when his home is rebuilt. But they will never replace Emmie and Benji, he said. Nothing could.

"Our kids were grown and out of the house,'' he said. "They were our kids.''

Case Updates

A Grafton man charged with setting a January house fire that claimed the lives of three family pets in Grafton was ordered held without bail after a dangerousness hearing today.

Joseph E. Mullen, 29, of 37 Stowe Road, Grafton, is awaiting trial in Worcester Superior Court on charges stemming from a Jan. 13 blaze at 23 Countryside Road, Grafton, the home of Robert and Kathleen Benoit. Police and prosecutors say Mr. Mullen was infatuated with Colleen Dando, Mrs. Benoit's daughter and Mr. Benoit's stepdaughter.

Ms. Dando, a former high school friend of Mr. Mullen, now lives in Vermont, according to testimony at a dangerousness hearing that was held in Mr. Mullen's case at the request of prosecutors.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Simmons had asked the court to make a finding that Mr. Mullen posed a threat to public safety and to order that he be held without bail for up to 90 days while awaiting trial.

Judge Janet Kenton-Walker, who presided over the hearing, allowed the prosecution's requests after finding that Mr. Mullen posed "a substantial danger to the entire community if released" and that no conditions of release would reasonably assure the public's safety.

Mr. Mullen has pleaded not guilty to charges of arson of a dwelling, breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, animal cruelty and possession of burglary tools.

Two dogs and a cat died in the three-alarm blaze. The Benoits were not home when the fire broke out.

Detective William G. Kuck of the Grafton Police Department testified that Mr. Mullen was taken into custody within hours of the early-afternoon fire and confessed to setting the blaze after waiving his Miranda rights and agreeing to speak with investigators.

The detective said Mr. Mullen related that he left his house with a five-gallon container of gasoline and a crowbar after having an argument with his father and being thrown out of the house. Mr. Mullen said he drove by the Benoit residence once, but did not stop because there were two cars in the driveway, according to Detective Kuck.

When he returned, Mr. Mullen reportedly said, there were no cars in the driveway. Mr. Mullen told the officer he broke into the house by smashing a window with the crowbar, poured gasoline on a couch and set it ablaze.

Detective Kuck said close acquaintances of Mr. Mullen and Ms. Dando told him the two had been friends in high school, but that Mr. Mullen always wanted to have a closer relationship with her. The detective said Mr. Mullen told him he had had no contact with Ms. Dando for several years.

Mr. Mullen's lawyer, John J. Roemer, said his client told police that he started the fire because he was despondent, had no place to live after the argument with his father and wanted to go to jail.

Mr. Roemer said his client had only one previous arrest and no convictions on his record. He urged the court to release Mr. Mullen from custody with conditions that could include electronic monitoring.

When asked if his client had a history of mental health problems, Mr. Roemer said Mr. Mullen had been seeing a doctor for about a year because of mood disorders and, at one time, had been taking antidepressants.

"The clear and convincing evidence is that Mullen, an almost 30-year-old man, broke into the house where his former high school friend used to live and set the house on fire," Judge Kenton-Walker wrote in her decision.

"He did so because he was angry that he had been thrown out of his parents' home, had no place to live and, in his words, 'wanted to raise hell.' He is being treated for a major mental illness. Mullen has demonstrated that he is incapable of restraining himself," the judge wrote.

Referring to Mr. Roemer's request for electronic monitoring as a condition of release, Judge Kenton-Walker said it appeared that Mr. Mullen had no place to live.

Based on what she described as his "angry outburst," the judge said she did not believe that GPS monitoring was sufficient to protect the public.

Mr. Mullen's case was continued to April 10.
Source: - Mar 22, 2012
Update posted on Mar 22, 2012 - 8:52PM 
The man accused of burning 23 Countryside Road to the ground will face animal cruelty charges for the deaths of two dogs in the blaze.

Joseph Mullen, 29, of 27 Stowe Road, Grafton, was indicted today by the grand jury on charges of arson of a dwelling, breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to commit a felony, possession of burglary tools and animal cruelty, according to a spokesman for District Attorney Joseph Early.

Supporters of the Benoit family, who lived in the home, had spearheaded a petition effort to add animal cruelty charges against Mullen. Homeowner Robert Benoit has spoken emotionally that the dogs, who were trapped in a room of the home, and the cat were innocent victims.

In addition to the dogs that were killed, one of the family's two cats was never found. A second cat survived.

Mullen will now be arraigned in Worcester Superior Court. A date should be set next week.
Source: - Mar 9, 2012
Update posted on Mar 9, 2012 - 9:11PM 
An online petition urges the district attorney to add animal cruelty charges against the man accused of setting fire to a home Jan. 13 at 23 Countryside Road.

Two shih tzu dogs, siblings Emmie and Benji, were killed in the blaze. A cat named Grey was never found.

The home, owned by Bob and Kathy Benoit, was destroyed in the blaze. While the house was still smoldering, Joseph E. Mullen, 29, of 27 Stowe Rd., Grafton, was charged with arson of a dwelling, breaking and entering in the daytime for a felony and destruction of property over $250.

But the family and their supporters want to add animal cruelty charges against Mullen.

Benoit is appearing before the grand jury Wednesday to make his case for adding animal cruelty charges to the case.

"They were my four-legged kids,'' an emotional Benoit said last night. "They were trapped in a room, trying to escape, but they couldn't. They didn't do anything but give unconditional love.''

The animals were his first thought when he got word at his company, The Print Centre in Needham, that his home was on fire.

Knowing that no one was in the home that time of day, he asked a neighbor to break in and rescue the pets. But the intense smoke and heat drove the man back.

Mullen apparently told police that he didn't know there were animals at the home. But Benoit does not believe that.

He said that shi tzus were originally bred as guard dogs and always alerted the Benoits to visitors with their barking.

He said he continues to struggle with the loss. He keeps a copy of the poem, the Rainbow Bridge, on his desk at work. The poem, which talks of as bridge in the afterlife where pets wait faithfully for their owners to join them, gives him some comfort.

And so does the support he has received from family, friends and even total strangers.

He thanked them for their "kindness and support'' and urged them to sign the petition.

"The outpouring of support has been incredible,'' he said. "It's the greatest thing.''

The petition can be viewed here.
Source: - Mar 2, 2012
Update posted on Mar 2, 2012 - 8:28AM 


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