Pet store manager charged with willful burning of shop
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Pet store manager charged with willful burning of shop

By Brian R. Ballou and Raja Mishra, Boston Globe Staff

October 7, 2006

CAMBRIDGE -- The manager of a pet store destroyed in a blaze last month was charged yesterday with setting fire to the shop and killing more than two-dozen exotic pets in an arson in which he sought to frame animal rights activists.

The fire on the second floor of the Boston Tropical Fish and Reptiles shop on Sept. 27 killed a collection of snakes, frogs, and fish, with the apparent arsonist spray painting ``No more exploitation of animals" on the storefront. Detectives at the scene said the graffito might lead them to the culprit.

Yesterday, police arrested Thanh Trinh, 42, of Charlestown, the store's manager, along with two alleged accomplices. Trinh pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of willful burning of a building, malicious killing of animals, cruelty to animals, larceny over $250, and larceny from a building. He was detained without bail and transferred to Bridgewater State Hospital for a mental evaluation. He will have a dangerousness hearing on Oct. 13.

His alleged accomplices -- Dennis Nickerson, 21, of Somerville, and Zachary Azzam, 17, of Cambridge -- pleaded not guilty to the same charges and were held on $1,000 bail. All three appeared in Cambridge District Court, covering their faces with their shirts as television cameras recorded the proceedings.

Trinh was at the fire scene on Wednesday night and expressed grief as he pointed to the charred store he managed. But when a reporter sought to interview him, he quickly left. Prosecutors said Trinh was in the process of buying the store, which had not been doing well recently. They would not elaborate on his alleged motive.

The store's owner -- Dianne San Filippo , who was also at the scene -- wondered why animal rights activists would burn pets to death. ``Is that kind of death better than exploitation?" she asked.
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