Update 8/28/15 – A Nov. 9 court of appeals date has been set for Bitossi, whose defense maintains he didn’t the light fire and has been “set up,” according to the source.
During the trial, Justice France found the fire was targeted at Bitossi’s associate and set recklessly, the source reported. The storage unit door was left open and a trail of petrol was poured down the corridor, helping the fire spread to more than 200 units.
2/6/15 – Convicted arsonist Angelo Bitossi has been sentenced to 8.5 years for setting the fire that caused more than $9 million in damage and property losses at Kiwi Self Storage in Wellington, New Zealand.
Justice Simon France said the severity of the damage caused by the fire was greater than similar incidents of arson. The fire affected 300 individuals and damaged 225 storage units, according to the source.
Bitossi, 35, must serve at least half of his jail term before he is eligible for parole, the source reported.
12/11/14 – Angelo Bitossi has been found guilty of setting the fire that caused more than $8 million in damage at Kiwi Self Storage in Wellington, New Zealand. Justice Simon France rendered his verdict in High Court this week, rejecting the defense’s claim that a friend of Bitossi’s had set him up and planted the baseball cap containing Bitossi’s DNA at the scene.
The fire started in a unit rented by Darren McKinley, who was an associate of Bistossi’s. The defendant admitted to police that he knew McKinley’s access code to the self-storage facility and possessed a key to one of two padlocks on the unit, according to the source. Prosecutors argued the two men had a falling out, giving Bitossi motive to set the fire. McKinley was not named as a suspect during the investigation.
Simon said the evidence against Bitossi was overwhelming, including video footage and the cap with the defendant’s DNA. "It is clear from the interview that Mr. Bitossi and Mr. McKinley had a long-term working relationship," the judge said in announcing his verdict. "Mr. Bitossi did a lot of running around for Mr. McKinley, but around the time of the fire, he had come to the view that Mr. McKinley had just been using him. He was plainly very disenchanted with Mr. McKinley, who apparently had stopped providing Mr. Bitossi with money. This was causing Mr. Bitossi both difficulty and annoyance."
The judge said there was no reason to believe Bitossi’s friend, a man named James Brodie, would have tried to frame the defendant.
Testimony during the trial said the fire caused $3 million in damage and has cost Kiwi $750,000 in revenue. The storage company’s fire-related expenses were estimated at $240,000, the source reported.
Bitossi will remain in custody until his sentencing hearing, scheduled for Feb. 5, 2015. As the defendant was being escorted out of the court room, he displayed his middle finger and shouted an expletive, according to the source.
Despite the personal losses suffered by tenants victimized by the fire, some were skeptical of the circumstantial evidence presented in the case and believed Bitossi did not act alone. Megan Ransom, a sculptor who lost $50,000 of property in the blaze, told the source she believed there were other “people involved in this fire who were not on the line. There’s a lot more to this that I can’t say right now.”
Sgt. Grant Ferguson, a senior detective, told the source the police were satisfied with the conviction and that the investigation pointed to Bitossi as acting alone.
A meeting was being organized this week for tenants who lost property in the fire to discuss the possibility of legal action against Kiwi. Many of the affected tenants did not have insurance or were told by their carriers that their coverage did not apply to self-storage, the source reported.
12/2/14 – The trial for the 35-year-old man charged with deliberately setting the April fire that caused significant damage to Kiwi Self Storage in Wellington, New Zealand, began this week in High Court. Prosecutors believe the defendant had motive to set the fire after a falling out with Darren McKinley, who rented the unit where investigators believe the fire was set.
McKinley appeared in court on Tuesday but refused to testify against the defendant, according to “The Dominion Post.” The defendant’s name has been withheld from the public, but Justice Simon France on Monday denied an application to continue to suppress it. However, France did grant an interim extension of the suppression through Tuesday to give the defense a chance to appeal. The judge is presiding over the case without a jury.
Prosecutor Sally Carter told the court there’s video footage of someone walking onto the storage property wearing a significant amount of clothing to attempt to bulk up his appearance. The individual was carrying a plastic bag and red fuel tank. The arson suspect’s face is not visible in the video, but the person used the access code assigned to McKinley’s unit to gain entrance through the facility’s security gate, said Carter, who believes the defendant knew McKinley’s code and had a key to the unit.
McKinley’s unit was one of three accessed at the facility shortly before the fire started, according to Radio New Zealand. Video footage shows the suspect approaching McKinley’s unit and later walking away from the area wearing different clothing, including a black and purple cap, according to the prosecution. A black cap with a purple bill with the defendant’s DNA was found at the scene, Carter told the court.
The defendant, who has pleaded not guilty to the arson charges, denied owning the cap, but additional footage shows him on the storage property days before the fire wearing a similar hat, Radio New Zealand reported.
Carter also told the court she can connect the defendant to buying a fuel tank, line assembly and a brass connector that could have been used to set the fire. The prosecution believes the defendant discarded the tank and the outer layer of clothing worn onto the premises in the fire.
Phone calls between the defendant and McKinley are expected to be played in court. McKinley is not a suspect in the arson.
The gate-access system used at Kiwi Self Storage requires a PIN code to gain access to the property. When a correct PIN is entered, the gate unlocks and the alarm at the associated storage unit is deactivated. Tenants must exit the property through a different gate by re-entering their PIN, which re-activates the unit alarm.
On the night of the fire, several attempts to use McKinley’s code to leave the storage property were unsuccessful, Carter told the court. The prosecutor believes the suspect escaped the scene by scaling the gate or fence. The video camera at the exit gate wasn’t working, Radio New Zealand reported.
During cross examination by defense attorney Douglas Ewen, Kiwi’s facility manager Gregory Lane said the security system resets itself if someone is at the facility for more than an hour.
More than 20 witnesses are expected to be called during the trial, which is expected to last up to two weeks.
Testimony during the trial this week said the fire caused $3 million in damage and has cost Kiwi $750,000 in revenue.
- Radio New Zealand: Storage Fire Caused by Falling Out
- Stuff.co.nz: Bitossi Found Guilty of Storage Facility Fire
- The Dominion Post: Kiwi Self Storage Arsonist Angelo Bitossi Jailed for 8 1/2 years
- The Dominion Post: Convicted Kiwi Self Storage Arsonist Angelo Bitossi Gets Appeal Date
- The Dominion Post: Man Refuses to Testify in Arson Trial
- The New Zealand Herald: Man Accused of Wellington Storage Fire Goes on Trial
- TVNZ: Self-Storage Building Deliberately Set Alight, Crown Tells Court