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Arson suspect's attorney seeks to bar informant's statement

Rich Cholodofsky
| Sunday, April 29, 2012, 3:45 p.m.

Police investigators said a jailhouse informant gave them details that only the arsonist could know about the Feb. 23 fire that destroyed a Unity landmark.

The attorney for Edgar C. Wiltrout, who is accused of torching the Hollow Tavern, wants those statements barred from evidence at his upcoming trial.

Police contend Wiltrout, 55, of Ligonier Township, loaned tavern owner Charles "Chip" Santone $1,000 to help keep the bar afloat. Santone previously testified he was unable to repay Wiltrout, who once threatened to burn down the bar.

Wiltrout also was upset that Santone had fired his girlfriend, according to police.

During a pretrial hearing Thursday, police investigators said Errin Rose, who was an inmate in Westmoreland County Prison with Wiltrout, three times gave statements to investigators that included details about the Sleepy Hollow Tavern and implicated Wiltrout.

"The information he provided is information only Mr. Wiltrout would know. He provided very good information," testified Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jacob Andolina.

Four investigators testified that Rose, of Belle Vernon, was not asked to question Wiltrout in jail. They did not testify about the details Wiltrout provided to Rose.

Rose, 38, initially was jailed in May and released Aug. 23, nearly a month after he last met with investigators about the Hollow Tavern fire.

Rose testified yesterday he came forward with the information in an attempt to win his release from jail. He is free on nominal bond and is scheduled to plead guilty next month to charges of fleeing apprehension and escape.

Defense attorney Allen Roth contended that Rose's statements were solicited by police, making Rose an agent of the state who should have told Wiltrout that he was working with police.

Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec said he will decide the issue after attorneys submit written arguments next month.

Wiltrout's trial is scheduled to begin in February.

Roth said Wiltrout did not set the fire.

"It couldn't have been him," Roth said. "There were three other people implicated who said they were going to burn the building down."

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