Bischoff, Morgan and King.
Defendant was indicted, tried and convicted of arson (N.J.S.A. 2A:89-1). He was sentenced to an indeterminate term at the Youth Reception and Correctional Center at Yardville with the five-year maximum waived and a seven-year maximum imposed.
The State's proofs showed the following facts. On July 27, 1975 a fire occurred at the Hotel Savoy in Newark. The hotel is a four-story building and, at the time of the fire, the fourth floor was unoccupied. The fire and resulting damage was confined to the fourth floor and roof area.
Defendant lived on the second floor of the hotel and at about 11 A.M. on the day of the fire he was in the room of another hotel resident, Charles Ewings. Also present were other friends. The group was estimated by one witness as consisting of nine persons. Between 11 A.M. and 2 P.M. the group consumed five or six quarts of beer. During this period
defendant repeatedly told Ewings that he was going to set fire to the building because of some difficulties he was having with the supervisor or owner of the hotel concerning his welfare check. At about 2 P.M. defendant returned to his room. Most of the remainder of the group went outside and loitered on a nearby street corner and eventually were located in front of a drug store across the street from the hotel.
At about 5 P.M. they observed defendant at a window in a room on the fourth floor of the hotel. He was smiling and holding a burning paper bag. A short time later defendant came out of the building. Smoke and flames were seen coming out of the fourth-floor room where defendant had been observed. Defendant joined Ewings on the street and Ewings asked him if he set the fire, to which defendant responded, "Yes, I did."
Defendant's testimony concerning events prior to 2 P.M. was substantially the same as that of the State's witnesses. However, he denied stating to Ewings that he was going to burn the building. He admitted being on the fourth floor where the fire started, for the purpose of exchanging furniture, but denied having a burning paper bag in his hand. He admitted lighting a cigarette while in the room and stated, "I didn't realize the match didn't go out and caught on."
During the course of examination by the prosecutor on this precise statement, the following occurred:
Q. Do you know how that fire started?
A. Not necessarily. I don't, really. Not to my ...