Shelton arson suspect declared competent for trial

After nearly two years in custody on charges he tried to torch his downtown Shelton home — then bragged about it to neighbors — arson suspect Michael Karolkowski has been declared competent to stand trial.

Karolkowski, 53, had twice been found legally incompetent, but on Friday his lawyer, a prosecutor, and a judge agreed he can now understand the proceedings against him and assist in his defense.

Shelton police arrested Karolkowski April 16, 2017, minutes after they say he started a fire in the basement of his home, then knocked on a neighbor’s door and said, “I just lit that house on fire and I’m going to light my mom’s house on fire.”

Another witness told police that they saw Karolkowski spraying lighter fluid in the rear of the home and lighting fireworks while saying “I have to burn the rats out of the house.”

Shelton firefighters quickly extinguished the flames, and the people in the house at the time were able to escape without injury.

A state police dog alerted to an odor of accelerants in the basement of the home, according to a police report, which said Karolkowski admitted spraying lighter fluid in his backyard and lighting fireworks in the basement, but that “what happened must have been an accident.”

After being held on $100,000 bond in the case for nearly a year, a judge last April ordered Karolkowski to undergo an exam to determine whether he was competent to stand trial.

On May 8, 2018, after hearing testimony from a doctor, Judge Frank Iannotti found that Karolkowski wasn’t competent to stand trial, but that he could be “restored” to competence. The judge ordered Karolkowski transferred to Whiting Forensic Hospital in Middletown.

After another hearing on Aug. 23, 2018, the judge again found Karolkowski incompetent and sent him back to Whiting for more treatment.

On Friday, another competency hearing was held in Karolkowski’s case, where State’s Attorney Margaret Kelly and his lawyer, Public Defender Susan Brown, agreed that Karolkowski is now competent to stand trial.

Judge Peter Brown agreed after reading an eight-page report from the hospital and continued the case to Feb. 15.
“In light of the passage of time, the state wants an opportunity to reach out to the victims in the case,” Kelley said.