Image: Aaron Speed
Chris Gardner  /  AP file
Aaron Speed, 21, right, is escorted out of the Charles County Sheriff's office in La Plata, Md., by a law enforcement official last December.
updated 6/23/2005 6:29:11 PM ET 2005-06-23T22:29:11

A former security guard entered a guilty plea Thursday for his role in the largest residential arson case in Maryland history, a blaze at a development the company he worked for was hired to protect. The fire caused $10 million in damage to property owned mostly by black homeowners.

Aaron Speed, 21, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit arson before U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Greenbelt. He faces a prison term of five to 20 years and a $250,000 fine. Speed could also be ordered to pay restitution.

At his arraignment in January, Speed pleaded not guilty. It was not immediately clear Thursday if his guilty plea was part of a deal with prosecutors.

Speed, of Waldorf, was an employee of Security Services of America, a company hired to guard the upscale Hunters Brooke development in southern Maryland.

He was the first of six men arrested on charges of setting the fires in Indian Head. Five were indicted on multiple counts of arson, conspiracy to commit arson and aiding and abetting charges. A criminal complaint against the sixth, Michael Gilbert, was later dropped. All the accused are white.

The five men pleaded not guilty in January, but in April, 21-year-old Jeremy Parady of Accokeek pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit arson as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

Titus postponed accepting the agreement earlier this month until he could learn more details about Parady's involvement. Parady's deal would have sent him to prison for nearly 10 years. It also called for him to pay $4.8 million in restitution.

Tough times leading up to crime
Speed suffered through several difficult family situations before the fires, including the death last year of a baby son and his own placement the year before in a foster home by an organization specializing in mental health treatment.

Prosecutors believe the men drove to the development Dec. 6, poured chemicals at 35 homes under construction and torched them. At least 10 houses were destroyed. No one was hurt.

Besides racism, other possible motives for the fires have been presented by prosecutors and in court filings, including a desire by alleged ringleader Patrick Walsh to gain fame for a loosely organized group called "the family."

The remaining defendants are Walsh, Michael Everhart and Roy McCann.

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