Prince William County prosecutors failed to prove probable cause in the arson case against a former cab driver who was released from a mental hospital last year after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2013 shooting of Alexandria police officer Peter Laboy.
Kashif Bashir was charged in February with one count of arson and two counts of attempted arson, which are felonies, as well as two misdemeanor counts of an acquitted insane person in possession of a gun.
Charging documents allege Bashir set one fire and attempted to set another fire at the homes of two mental health professionals.
In Thursday’s preliminary hearing, prosecutor Claiborne Richardson called four witnesses in an effort to show Bashir was more likely than not responsible for the arson. The 51-49% standard in a probable cause hearing is far lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in a criminal trial.
Elizabeth Dugan, one of the mental health providers, testified her home had been set on fire on Feb. 6, 2018. Dugan discovered soot marks and told fire investigators she had smelled gasoline.
Dugan is a supervisor of a county government board responsible for reporting on whether Bashir was complying with his 2018 conditional release from the mental hospital where he lived after being declared insane in Laboy’s shooting.
Dugan testified she saw Bashir five times a week as part of a court order. When asked by fire investigators if she suspected anyone who might have set fire to her home, Dugan named Bashir and two others.
Three fire investigators for Prince William County Fire and Rescue testified they found plastic bottles in mulch of the burned home that were similar to plastic bottles discovered in Bashir’s home after securing a search warrant.
Another search warrant of a safe yielded a 9-mm handgun.
After the testimony, defense attorney Paul Walla moved to strike the arson case, saying prosecutors failed to meet the probable cause standard.
“They have a crime, but nothing that ties Mr. Bashir to it,” said Walla. “There’s nothing that connects him to the crime.”
District Court Judge Wallace Covington agreed prosecutors failed to meet their burden, saying he expected witnesses to testify how they narrowed three suspects down to Bashir.
“We had a lot of out-of-state witnesses who couldn’t testify,” county Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert told WTOP. “We’ll take it to the next grand jury and, hopefully, they’ll indict.”
Unlike a case in which a judge forwards it to the grand jury after a preliminary hearing, prosecutors can also ask a jury to consider a direct indictment.
The Prince William County grand jury next meets in the first week of July.
Bashir’s next scheduled court appearance is June 21, to face trial on the misdemeanor charge of gun possession by an acquitted insane person. He remains in custody without bond.
Shortly after Bashir’s arrest in the arson case, Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter filed a motion to revoke Bashir’s conditional release.
Porter has told WTOP he will allow Prince William prosecutors to finish their case against Bashir before proceeding with his open case in Alexandria Circuit Court.
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