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Video shows man climbing to roof before fire

Walgreens blaze started shortly after man was seen on roof

Video from a security camera just before the Walgreens fire started on the night of July 1, 2007, captures the image of a man climbing to the roof of the Walgreens building in downtown Palo Alto, walking around on the roof, and then entering the building through a door on the roof.

Minutes later, the fire that destroyed the building broke out.

The video was shown in federal court in San Jose Wednesday as part of the prosecution's case against Donald Ray Williams, who has been charged with setting the fire.

The security camera was on the roof of a building housing Switch & Data, an Internet company located across the alley that runs behind the former Walgreens building.

The video images from shortly before 9 p.m. show the man climbing to the roof of the building. Within 30 minutes, a glow can be seen on the roof of the building from second-store offices above Walgreens (which were off-screen) and within minutes, the fire was raging, with smoke billowing across the alley.

The video also shows firefighters arriving in the alley to determine the location of the fire, entering the building from an alley doorway and carrying a hose line to the roof to fight the fire, which quickly spread out of control and burned all night.

The man climbing to the roof cannot be identified from the video, in part because the security camera was about a half-block away. But it was clear enough to show that the man who climbed to the roof of Walgreens was wearing white pants and a white shirt when he walked down the alley toward a rear alcove of the building, and then shed the white shirt and climbed to the roof.

From the video, it isn't clear if the man was then wearing a black shirt or was an African-American man without a shirt, according to testimony of Gabrielle Solleder, a special agent of the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive agency. Williams is African-American.

Solleder testified that she and Palo Alto Police Lt. Sandra Brown recovered a white T-shirt from a dumpster behind the Walgreens building after the fire and sent it to an ATF lab for DNA testing.

Solleder also testified that she took a DNA swab from Williams five days after the fire. Later testimony about the results of the DNA tests will supposedly link Williams to the T-shirt, as was reported in news stories in 2007.

Testimony in Williams' trial continues on Thursday and Monday.

There is a possibility of the defense presenting an alibi witness when the prosecution finishes its case and the defense begins calling its witnesses next week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Fry made court filings in the case last November requesting to be notified if the defense was going to present an alibi witness or use an insanity defense.

Outside court on Wednesday, Federal Public Defender Manuel Araujo said that there will be no insanity defense and he was keeping the option open of calling an alibi witness.

Related stories:

Dramatic testimony opens Walgreens-fire trial

Walgreens fire suspect called 'Spider-Man'

Second witness links Williams to Walgreens

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