Man accused of throwing flammable devices on Centre County Courthouse roof will face trial

Dennis Hassinger in 2017
Dennis Hassinger in 2017

The Bellefonte man accused of throwing flammable devices onto the Centre County Courthouse and sheriff’s office roofs was bound over for trial Wednesday.

Bellefonte police detective Bill Witmer and Sheriff Bryan Sampsel each testified about Dennis Hassinger’s “signature look” — brown boots, white socks and camo shorts — which helped them identify Hassinger on video surveillance.

Witmer also testified about Hassinger’s frequent trips to Dollar General — the store’s yellow bags were found at each of the holes left by the fires.

Sampsel, meanwhile, testified he identified the 48-year-old Hassinger on the video that was recorded at about 1:50 a.m. on Oct. 30 because he grew up with Hassinger and has known him for at least 30 years.

“I’ve seen him in the boots and shorts before. He has a high forehead,” Sampsel testified. “I was disappointed it was him, to be honest with you.”

State police fire marshal Scott Swasing also testified the “irregular burn patterns” on both roofs were similar in size, shape and had a “distinct odor of a liquid accelerant.”

“If it would have burnt through the top of the roof ... there would have been an issue,” Swasing testified. “The top of the office would have been on fire quickly.”

In his closing argument, Assistant Public Defender Patrick McAreavy asked District Judge Allen Sinclair to dismiss the charges because there was no video of Hassinger allegedly throwing an object onto the sheriff’s office roof and the video was too dark to properly identify Hassinger.

Assistant District Attorney Sean McGraw disagreed and said, “This business is all about drawing inferences.”

Sinclair ultimately bound Hassinger over on all charges, including four felony counts of arson and two felony counts of reckless burning. One felony count of arson was withdrawn before Hassinger’s preliminary hearing.

Sinclair also listened to bail arguments from McGraw and McAreavy after District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker denied Hassinger bail.

McGraw said Hassinger either fights or runs when he is involved with law enforcement and cited his “lengthy” criminal history, which includes at least 10 convictions since 1988.

“He’s never been in this much trouble, judge,” McGraw said. “The calculus has changed.”

McAreavy told Sinclair Hassinger has gone to trial in each of his previous cases and has “no interest in fleeing.”

Sinclair set monetary bail at $50,000 and Hassinger will remain incarcerated at the Centre County Correctional Facility.