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Man found guilty in firebombing; Defendant orchestrated Molotov cocktail attack on house.

Byline: Samantha Allen

WORCESTER -- A former Fitchburg man was found guilty of arson Tuesday for masterminding a 2013 firebomb attack on a Fitchburg home.

A woman and her child avoided injury in the attack that damaged a house at 30 Hobson St.

After a two-day trial, John Y. Yang, 33, was found guilty of arson of a dwelling and malicious explosion. Jurors deliberated for just over an hour after two days of testimony in the case in which prosecutors said Mr. Yang orchestrated the firebombing on July 7, 2013.

The explosion charge carries a minimum sentence of 15 years, according to defense lawyer Timothy W. Murphy. A charge of accessory before the fact was nol prossed, a decision by the prosecutor not to proceed with a case after criminal charges have been brought.

Two of three suspects who threw Molotov cocktails at the Hobson Street home -- Kyle S. DeWispelaere, formerly of Milford, New Hampshire, and Joseph E. Brown, formerly of Lyndeboro, New Hampshire -- testified in the trial under an agreement with the district attorney. The third suspect, Stephen M. Silva, formerly of Milford, New Hampshire, did not testify.

Mr. DeWispelaere and Mr. Brown both identified Mr. Yang as the person from whom they purchased heroin for years at various locations in Fitchburg. They said Mr. Yang sought to exact revenge on Shaun Hibbard, a man who lived at 30 Hobson St. and who the prosecution claimed stole drugs, firearms and money from Mr. Yang.

Assistant District Attorney Brett F. Dillon said investigators found Mr. Yang and Mr. Hibbard shared an apartment at 50 Florence St. in Leominster when Mr. Hibbard was seeking a divorce from his wife.

Using the nicknames "Chi'' and "Dim Sum,'' Mr. Yang plotted with the firebomb suspects, his customers, to try to set fire to Mr. Hibbard's home, the jury was told. Mr. Brown testified Tuesday he was promised $1,000 in heroin for carrying out the deed.

The trio were arrested moments after they lobbed flaming jars of gasoline at the house where Mr. Hibbard's wife, Elizabeth Hibbard, and their young child were staying. Mrs. Hibbard testified Monday she was able to put out the flames with water before the Fitchburg Fire Department arrived. There was damage to the home and risk for explosion when a jar struck the home's gas meter, officials said, but no injuries.

Mr. Hibbard was fatally shot nearly four weeks later, on Aug. 3, 2013, at Charles and Forest streets, Fitchburg, steps away from 45 Forest St. That's the address where the firebombing suspect said they would buy heroin from Mr. Yang. It is also the home address of Mr. Yang's brother, Peter Yang, and the defendant's stepbrother Moses Yang, now of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, according to officials.

No arrests or charges materialized in the 2013 slaying of Mr. Hibbard, who was 33 when he died. He was shot and killed after a confrontation on his way to his car, according to the Fitchburg Police Department. Jurors were not allowed to consider that as evidence in the firebombing case.

John Yang's family maintained throughout the trial the defendant was in Wisconsin the summer of 2013 and offered some photographs and a 2011 fishing license as evidence, as well as documentation of court hearings for a traffic violation in June in Wisconsin.

Mr. Murphy argued that Fitchburg police and Massachusetts State Police had identified the wrong man. Mr. Murphy said there was no evidence the defendant ever lived with Mr. Hibbard, though state police Sgt. Kenneth Heffernan said John Yang's fingerprints were found inside Mr. Hibbard's Leominster apartment.

Much of the testimony this week hinged on whether John Yang used the pseudonym "Chi'' -- the name firebomb suspects gave authorities for their leader. In their investigation, Fitchburg police seized a photograph of a half-naked woman, with a note written on it that read, "Chi, Keep it nasty.'' Mr. Dillon argued this was incriminating evidence tying the defendant to the case; officials alleged the man next to the woman in the photo was John Yang.

Mr. Yang was also convicted of manslaughter and received an 8-year sentence for the 2003 Fitchburg fatal shooting of Jacky Phandonouvong, 20, of Leominster. Mr. Yang pleaded guilty in that case after the charges were reduced from first-degree murder.

Mr. Yang continues to be held without bail at Concord State Prison, and is to be sentenced today.

Outside the courtroom, the family of John Yang declined to comment. Mr. Murphy said his client was disappointed in the outcome of the case.

"The jury has spoken. It is always difficult for the defendant when the jury comes back guilty,'' he said Tuesday. "We will regroup for sentencing tomorrow.''

Contact Samantha Allen at samantha.allen@telegram.com. Follow her on Twitter @SAllen_89
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Allen, Samantha
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 25, 2015
Words:793
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