Published On: Fri, Jan 13th, 2017

Man Gets 12 to 24 Years for Buckingham Township Arson/Homicide Attempt

arsonA man convicted of trying to kill his wife in a Buckingham Township house fire was sentenced Friday to 12 to 24 years in state prison.

Joseph Todd, 50, was convicted Oct. 18 by Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, arson, attempted arson and other crimes. Fritsch today imposed consecutive sentences of six and one half to 13 years for attempted homicide, four and one half to nine years for arson, and one to two years for attempted arson, describing Todd’s actions as “heinous” and his conduct as “menacing” and “calculating.”

Fritsch also imposed a six-month concurrent sentence for Todd’s violation of a protection from abuse order, ordering him to pay more than $4,000 in restitution to the victim, his estranged wife Kathy Todd.

The Bucks District Attorney’s Office said that on Jan. 15, 2016, as the Todds’ marriage was unraveling, Buckingham police were notified that Joseph Todd was threatening to blow up the family’s house on the 3700 block of West Brandon Way, and was tampering with the natural gas line. Kathy Todd told police that her husband had smashed an upstairs lamp during an argument, and had declared that their divorce would never go through “because he will commit a murder-suicide first.”

Kathy Todd fled the house with her two children and called 911 after her husband went to the basement with channel lock pliers and began tampering with the gas lines, say authorities. When police arrived and smelled gas inside the house, they shut off the power and contacted PECO to shot off the gas supply and nearby homes were also evacuated for a short time.

Joseph Todd was committed involuntarily to a mental health facility, and Kathy Todd obtained a protection from abuse order on Jan. 20, 2016, effectively evicting him from the house.

On March 6, 2016, in violation of that court order and the conditions of his bail, Todd went back to the house, and entered through an unlocked door, said the D.A.’s office. He dragged his wife by the neck into the basement, beat her until she lost consciousness, started a fire in a utility closet, and tampered with gas lines in an effort to blow up the house.

According to Kathy Todd, Joseph stated, “You’re dead” before striking her repeatedly in the stomach and head, say court records. After blacking out briefly, she regained consciousness and fled to a neighbor’s house.

Meanwhile, Joseph Todd started a small gas fire in the basement, and bent a valve to the gas line on the side of the house to prevent anyone from turning off the gas. When police arrived, he ran back into the basement, pursued by officers.

Repulsed at first by heavy smoke, police utilized breathing apparatus to re-enter, and struggled to remove Todd, who begged them to shoot him, court records say.

Todd did not dispute most of the charges against him, but denied at his trial that he intended to kill his wife. Fritsch, however, ruled that Todd’s words and actions demonstrated “a fully formed and specific intent” to kill her.

Before being sentenced Friday, Todd apologized to Fritsch, and to his wife and children, for his actions. He blamed the assault on his wife on his alcoholism, saying that his drinking had spiraled out of control over the past several years, according to the Bucks D.A.’s office.

Todd said he had disputed the attempted homicide charges and did not testify at his trial because he could not remember what happened. It “was all a blur to me because I was drinking so much,” he said. “I cannot clearly remember those days.”

Todd had no prior criminal record. In a letter submitted to Fritsch, Kathy Todd said that he had never before been violent.

“I don’t think any of this would have happened if he wasn’t drinking,” she wrote. “I know that he put a lot of people in danger and drinking is not an excuse.”

Deputy District Attorney Monica Furber, who prosecuted the case, disputed the claim of Todd’s attorney, Andrew Levin, that the attack and the arsons were spontaneous, out of character acts.

“This did not come out of nowhere,” Furber argued, calling Todd’s crimes “a series of clear, calculated events” that required “a high level of criminal sophistication” to plan.

Furber told Fritsch that Todd had shown no remorse for his actions, and that he had done little in prison to address his alcoholism.

“The only way to protect Kathy Todd is with a sentence of total confinement,” she said.

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