A judge has dismissed the charges against a man who was accused of recklessly discharging a gunshot that set a fireworks store in Winchester ablaze last year, finding he is not competent to stand trial.
Joseph E. Champagne, 76, of Winchester had faced felony charges of reckless conduct, criminal mischief and falsifying physical evidence.
Investigators determined the September 2018 fire at Stateline Fireworks was caused by a shotgun round that traveled from Champagne’s house across the street into the store, igniting fireworks. It caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, according to the store’s owner, but caused no injuries.
Champagne told police he was carrying the gun and it fired accidentally when he tripped on the edge of a carpet, according to an affidavit filed by Winchester Detective Michael W. Carrier.
To undergo a trial, state law provides that a defendant must be mentally “competent” — able to understand the proceedings and to assist his or her lawyers in the defense. In a Dec. 4 order dismissing the charges, Cheshire County Superior Court Judge David W. Ruoff wrote that a forensic evaluator had determined that Champagne was not competent for trial. The order does not elaborate on the details of that evaluation.
Prosecutors agreed not to seek a determination of dangerousness — which could result in involuntary commitment to a psychiatric institution — so long as Champagne does not possess firearms or have contact with Stateline Fireworks.