Athol church arsonist’s sentencing continued

  • Trevor J. Defrancesco, 23, second from left, sits next to defense attorney Jonah Goldsmith during sentencing in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday. In April, Defrancesco had pleaded guilty to burning a building. Authorities say Defrancesco intentionally set three fires in the basement of Our Lady Immaculate Church in Athol on Oct. 19, 2019. The sentencing was continued to Oct. 26 so the court’s probation department can establish a treatment plan for Judge Karen Goodwin to review. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2021 3:45:44 PM
Modified: 10/13/2021 3:45:50 PM

GREENFIELD – The sentencing of a 23-year-old man who in April pleaded guilty to burning a building has been continued to Oct. 26 so the Franklin County Superior Court’s probation department can establish a treatment plan for Judge Karen Goodwin to review.

The prosecution asked Goodwin to sentence Trevor J. Defrancesco to 18 months in a house of correction, but defense attorney Jonah Goldsmith argued Wednesday that “there’s really nothing more that can be gained by incarceration.” Goldsmith said his client is showing signs of progress and can be treated “on the outside.”

Authorities say Defrancesco intentionally set fires on a countertop, in a cabinet and on a table in the basement of Our Lady Immaculate Church in Athol on Oct. 19, 2019.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Thomas, who is prosecuting the case, told Goodwin the defendant “is not a well man entirely,” though not to the level of rendering him incompetent. He said Defrancesco, who lives in Worcester County, was released on bail in April 2020 and could set fire to another house of worship or other building. He said there must be consequences for these actions and Defrancesco, who works at a Gardner supermarket, has “no career that we’re trying to protect.” He said Defrancesco can receive treatment while incarcerated.

Thomas reminded Goodwin that Defrancesco, when he was first arrested, appeared in court wearing rosary beads. He said this could have been an attempt to taunt the church’s parishioners or possibly another symptom of delusion.

Goldsmith said Defrancesco has an emerging schizophrenia diagnosis.

Thomas said the parishioners are not insistent on incarceration but say Defrancesco must get the help he needs.

Goldsmith said his client made an impulsive, unfortunate choice but has a limited criminal record. After conferring with Thomas, Goldsmith told the judge Defrancesco has one misdemeanor assault and battery conviction stemming from an incident in which he sprayed bug spray into someone’s face. He said the arson was the result of his client’s “mental health and life circumstances at the time.” Goldsmith said Defrancesco had been living in a tent behind the church.

“He had some anger toward the church,” Goldsmith said. “The motive is unclear, but it does center around the church.”

In reference to Thomas’ comments about the rosary beads, Goldsmith said Defrancesco was not taunting parishioners and “is still a religious man who is seeking religious guidance.”

When he pleaded guilty, Defrancesco told Goodwin he had “been to therapists a million times” but never took the medications prescribed to him. On Wednesday, however, Goldsmith said his client has embraced counseling and now takes medicine, which has stabilized his life and mental health symptoms.

Thomas previously said a passerby saw smoke coming from the church at around 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2019, and called 911.

“Firefighters responded and were able to extinguish the fire after some work,” Thomas said in April, adding that Defrancesco later confessed to setting Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlets on fire. He said the fire in the cabinet had gone up a wall and had begun to catch the basement’s ceiling.

“It … could have possibly destroyed the building,” Thomas said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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