Franklin woman recieves 5-10 years for arson

  • A firefighter works to control the fire at 36 School St. in Franklin around 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. The structure fire started shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday. In this photo, a firefighter cut into the roof with a chainsaw.

  • Damage is shown as the result of a purposely-set fire at 36 School St. in Franklin on Sept. 16. Monitor file

  • Amber Cowan —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Friday, May 06, 2016

A Franklin woman has been sentenced 5 to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay close to $500,000 in restitution for setting fire to her apartment building last fall.

The Franklin Fire Department said Friday that Amber Cowan, 29, formerly of School Street was sentenced by Judge Diane Nicolosi Thursday in Merrimack County superior court. Cowan was convicted of felony arson following a multi-alarm fire last fall.

On Sept. 16, the Franklin Fire Department responded to a structure fire at 34-36 School St. Crews found intense fire throughout the second floor of the wooden frame apartment building, which was eventually destroyed. 

A family of four – including two adults and two children – were inside at the time of the fire. They all escaped without injury. 

As firefighters put out the flames, Chief Kevin LaChapelle and the Franklin Police Department received multiple reports that the fire was intentially set. 

Days prior, Cowan made threats to the property owners after she received an eviction notice. Several witnesses reported her saying she would burn down the building, and they also noted she called several neighbors asking for a gas can and money to buy gasoline. 

The Franklin Fire Department said surveillance video from Franklin Shop Express shows her purchasing and pumping $1.93 worth of gasoline into a one gallon can prior to the fire. When firefighters were on the scene, they also found a 1-gallon gas can. 

Just before the fire began that day, witness Mary Charles, said she saw Cowan ask for a cigarette and lighter, and then never return the lighter before going to “mow the lawn” at the apartment. Charles then saw Cowan enter the apartment building and then, a minute later, a fire.

Charles said Cowan was back across School Street and laughing at that time, saying the fire was an accident. 

State fire investigator Adam Fanjoy said last fall that Cowan supposedly knocked on all the doors in the apartment before igniting the gasoline. 

Franklin police – along with Northfield police – soon arrested Cowan on one count of felony arson. She was held at Merrimack County jail on $500,000 cash bail and was held there until her sentencing Thursday. 

Franklin fire and police departments, the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s office, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Manchester Fire Department conducted the investigation. The Merrimack County Attorney’s Office prosecuted the case.

Cowan was sentenced to 5-10 years at New Hampshire State Prison on Thursday. She also is expected to pay an estimated $480,000 in restitution. 

“We could not be happier with the outcome of this prosecution,” LaChapelle said Friday. “Ms. Cowan placed several occupants and firefighters in great danger that day. On behalf of the entire city, I would like to thank all of the agencies that assisted in this incident.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)