McClung Warehouses arson case bound to grand jury

McClung Warehouses arson case bound to grand jury

Robert Montgomery (source: Knox County Sheriff's Office) Robert Montgomery (source: Knox County Sheriff's Office)
Joey Bryant (source: Knox County Sheriff's Office) Joey Bryant (source: Knox County Sheriff's Office)

6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The case of two homeless men charged with arson in the February fire that resulted in the destruction of the remaining McClung Warehouses buildings has been bound to the grand jury.

Joey Patrick Bryant, 33, and Robert Earl Montgomery, 60, are each charged with arson, criminal trespass and assault.

According to arrest warrants, Bryant and Montgomery entered the building around 3:20 a.m. on February 1, illegally bypassing security measures, and set a fire with a blue Bic lighter.

A female witness was also present at the time of the fire. Upon learning the fire was out of control, the warrants say the trio then exited the building, changed their clothes and threw away their shoes to alter their appearance.

The warrants state the witness was threatened with bodily harm with a weapon if she told or cooperated with authorities.

At a hearing Friday, several people testified about what happened the night of February 1.

A captain with the Knoxville Fire Department said Montgomery told investigators he was not there at the time of the fire, but saw Bryant and a woman who said they had started a warming fire.

He said Montgomery knew too many details to have simply heard about the fire, rather than actually being there.

Witness Tarri Hauck told the court she was dating Bryant and on the night of the fire they picked up Montgomery and the three of them climbed over a cement wall to enter the building. She said they had stayed at McClung before, and that there was a mattress and a fire pit in the building.

"[Bryant and Montgomery] went around the building looking for some wood and was breaking down wood, leaning against the wall and break it down and then throw it on the fire. Then Joey found some clothing to throw on the fire and then used a lighter. Joey used a lighter and so did Mr. Montgomery," Hauck said in court.

She went to sleep and then was awakened by Bryant saying the building was on fire. She said Montgomery repeatedly said they needed to get water to put the fire out, but Bryant said not to worry about it.

Hauck said the three then left the building. She said Bryant and Montgomery told her not to tell anyone about the fire and that Bryant threatened her with a knife. She also said all three changed clothes and shoes so that there would be no evidence.

The defense attorney pointed out that Hauck was also trespassing, but was not charged.

Defense attorneys argued that while Montgomery and Bryant did set the fire, there was no evidence that they intended to burn the building down.

"I don't think there's proof that would prove that these three people went into this building in any way knew to any substantial certainty that they were about to set that building on fire or else Ms. Hauck would not have laid down and gone to sleep two feet from it," Keith Lowe said to the judge. Lowe represents Bryant.

The state maintained that it was arson because they intentionally set the fire in a place they did not have permission to be.

The judge agreed and bound the case over to the grand jury. It was not a surprise to Montgomery's attorney.

"This is about homeless people who didn't have a place. They built a fire pit but that meets the statute of the judges ruling that a fire pit in itself is damage to a property which is enough for the arson statute," explained Keith Pope, Montgomery's attorney.

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