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Bronx man challenges imprisonment for Watertown apartment arson

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A Bronx man who destroyed a four-story apartment building in Watertown by setting fire to it in 2007 has renewed his federal claim that he is being unlawfully detained for the crime.

Carlos L. Rivera, 35, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus Monday in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, claiming that, among other things, procedural errors were made and never corrected during his August 2008 trial in Jefferson County Court.

He was found guilty on a second-degree arson charge, as well as several other counts, for setting fire in an apartment at 201-205 Academy St., also called the Victoria Building. Two men were injured in the blaze that displaced about 30 people from their homes and resulted in the building being razed. Mr. Rivera was sentenced in September 2008 to 25 years in state prison and was ordered to pay $380,000 in restitution. He currently is incarcerated at Elmira Correctional Facility and is eligible for parole in 2029, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website.

Among Mr. Rivera’s federal claims is that County Court failed to pronounce sentence on multiple charges for which he was convicted, including first-degree reckless endangerment and second-degree menacing. He also maintains that jurors were given deficient legal definitions of several of the charges, leading to his conviction. He further contends that his defense attorney, Eric T. Swartz of Watertown, failed to raise objections to the jury’s instructions, depriving him of a fair trial.

Mr. Rivera had raised similar concerns in an appeal to the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, which rejected the claims in a February 2010 decision. He also raised many of the same concerns in a petition filed in federal court in March 2011. That petition was dismissed within about a week, with Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy stating Mr. Rivera’s petition was “confusing” as it appeared to include documents from various state records of his case, but did not include “a short and plain statement” explaining why he thought he was being held unlawfully, as is required in the petition.

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