Baden pleads guilty to arson, assault charges
By Andrea Lamberti
Steven H. Baden '92 pleaded guilty to charges of burning
a dwelling and five counts of armed assault with intent to commit murder on Friday, June 7
in Middlesex Superior Court. He will be sentenced Aug. 21.
The charges had been filed in connection with a fire Jan. 18 in the "kosher suite," where Baden lived, in Burton-Conner House.
Baden admitted to police investigators Jan. 18 that he set the fire early that morning, using gasoline bought the day before. He had become a suspect soon after the fire, according to the police report, because the "pour mark" of the gasoline existed on the hallway carpet in front of every room in the suite except Baden's room.
Baden did not return phone calls made over the past few days.
Baden had pleaded not guilty to the charges in February, when the case moved from district court to superior court. Cambridge District Court, where Baden was first arraigned, does not have jurisdiction over the charges against him.
Defense attorney Eric Levine would not say why Baden changed his plea. "I do know
the reasons, but I can't disclose them," he said.
Levine did say that he would recommend a less severe sentence for Baden than what the state
is expected to recommend, but would not give any details of it.
Assistant District Attorney Crispin Birnbaum will likely recommend a 20-year sentence at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord in response to the armed assault charges, she said. If sentenced to Concord prison, Baden would be eligible for parole after two years.
In response to the arson charge, Birnbaum said she would probably recommend "a very strict suspended sentence for a period of five years probation with psychiatric treatment." This sentence would take effect after incarceration.
Birnbaum noted that the sentence will ultimately be determined by the judge, Paul A. Chernoff.
Partial motive said to be
conflict with other student
Birnbaum said in court that Baden was partly motivated by animosity toward his former next-door neighbor in the suite, David E. Borison '91, according to The Middlesex News.
One week prior to the fire, Borison and Baden had a major quarrel concerning the standard of "kashrut," or "kosherness," of their suite kitchen, one of a few kosher kitchens on campus. In an interview after the fire, Borison said that he and Baden had been on friendly terms since the dispute.
In court Levine said that Baden intended to harm Borison but not any of the other suite members, The Middlesex News reported. Levine also said that it is unclear what Baden's exact state of mind was at the time, the News reported.
When contacted yesterday, Borison did not want to comment.
In court, Baden said he did not remember lighting the torch to set the fire, but did recall making it, according to the News. Baden had opened the door to Borison's room and poured gasoline inside, and then ignited the gasoline to start the fire, the News reported.
The dormitory sprinkler system kicked in soon after and put out the fire. Several students were treated for smoke inhalation, and one student broke her jaw while leaving the building, the News reported. The fire forced the evacuation of the dormitory.
When he was arraigned in January, Baden was ordered to stay away from the MIT campus as part of the bail terms; that bail status has not changed, Birnbaum said.
MIT to take action later
Baden has been suspended from MIT, Dean for Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith said.
Associate Dean for Student Affairs James R. Tewhey said there is "no question at all that MIT will take some action when the court case is completed."
Tewhey added that if it is impossible to hold a hearing -- in the case that Baden goes to jail -- "we might take action anyway." He added, "we will evaluate it when we know what the circumstances are."
The Institute's policy on students who face criminal charges is to wait until the court process has ended, Smith said.
Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert M. Randolph did not want to comment until after the sentencing, but he did say, "pleading guilty to five counts
of assault with intent to murder is . . . an extremely serious acknowledgment of guilt."
Randolph said the court had notified MIT and the other five suite members of the court's actions as they occurred.
Levine said, "this case has a long way to go before it's going to be resolved." He did not want to discuss it further, "given the history of it . . . [and] because it affects too many people's lives."