Richmond Times-Dispatch

Church-fire charge likely to be dropped
"He didn't do it."
Sunday, January 18, 2004

The man charged with Tuesday's suspicious fire at Poplar Springs Baptist Church apparently didn't do it, a Henrico County fire official said yesterday.

Charles R. Garten III, 24, of the 3500 block of Darbytown Court in eastern Henrico, has been released from jail and the arson charge against him is expected to be dropped when court convenes Tuesday, according to Lt. Doug Reynolds of the Henrico Division of Fire.

Meanwhile, a woman who provided fire investigators with information about the case has been arrested and charged with making a false report to a law-enforcement officer.

It is not the first time Jennifer Nicole Leidy, 20, has faced such a charge. Court records show Leidy provided a false report to police last year on Feb. 26. She was convicted of that misdemeanor charge on June 19, was fined $100 and received a 12-month suspended sentence.

Garten's release is "great news," said his attorney, Anton Stelly. "But not unexpected."

Stelly said he had conducted his own investigation, and all of Garten's time was accounted for.

"I still don't understand why he was charged, if all they had was a third-party report of someone seeing him" in the area of the church, Stelly said. "It's a complete lack of probable cause. It didn't make any sense."

The fire at the church on Charles City Road was reported by a passing motorist about 5 a.m. Tuesday. Garten was arrested later that day and was charged Wednesday. He was being held in the Henrico County Jail pending a bond hearing.

Federal investigators have been assisting Henrico's arson experts in trying to determine if the fire that destroyed Poplar Springs is related to four other suspicious church fires in Henrico and Hanover counties since last summer.

Contact Mark Holmberg at (804) 649-6822 or

Truth in Justice