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Falls man charged with arson in apartment housed blaze

LOCKPORT – Jerome Wingfield was arraigned on an arson indictment Friday, charged with starting a fire that destroyed a Niagara Falls apartment house on New Year’s Day, injuring five people and leaving about 40 homeless.

Wingfield, 33, previously was indicted on an attempted murder charge in the shooting of a man whom he thought – incorrectly, according to police – was having a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.

The woman lived in the Zodiac Apartments, 1967 Niagara St., which was set ablaze Jan. 1. Wingfield, who previously listed addresses at the Zodiac and on Main Street in the Falls, said in Niagara County Court Friday that he has no address.

The latest indictment, which accuses Wingfield of torching the building, also accuses him of assaulting the woman on various dates, beginning Nov. 27. Assistant District Attorney Claudette S. Caldwell said charges include arson, felony and misdemeanor assault, burglary, strangulation and criminal contempt, the latter because the woman had a court order of protection against Wingfield.

About 8 p.m. Dec. 7, Wingfield allegedly shot Darius L. Washington, 46, in the groin, abdomen and both legs in an attack in an alley in the 200 block of 22nd Street in the Falls. Washington was a friend of Wingfield’s ex-girlfriend.

Police said the fire at the Zodiac Apartments was started at about 7:15 p.m. Jan. 1, after Wingfield allegedly broke into the woman’s second-floor apartment. She wasn’t home at the time.

A second man charged by police as an accomplice to the arson, Zodiac resident Wilber T. Haynes, 70, was not indicted, Caldwell told Judge Matthew J. Murphy III. Wingfield insisted on testifying before the grand jury against the advice of his attorney, Jenelle Messer.

Murphy, who had set bail at $500,000 when Wingfield pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder charge in February, added $50,000 to the tab Friday after Wingfield entered the same plea on the new indictment. The defendant remains in the Niagara County Jail.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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