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Shippee pleads not guilty to pre-fire assault charges

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WORCESTER- Craig Shippee, identified by investigators as a person of interest in the death of a woman whose badly burned body was discovered in a fire in a vacant Main South building earlier this month, was arraigned yesterday on charges of sexually assaulting the woman and severely beating a man who tried to prevent the alleged attack.

Mr. Shippee, whose last known address was 1050 Main St., was ordered held on $250,000 cash bail after pleading not guilty in Worcester Superior Court to charges of assault with intent to rape, indecent assault and battery, armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault with intent to maim, and making a false report of a crime.

Mr. Shippee, 40, was arrested on a warrant Thursday night after being indicted earlier in the day by a Worcester County grand jury. While he has not been charged in the death of 51-year-old Joyce Coughlin or with setting the Sept. 13 fire at 856 Main St., where her body was found, Police Capt. Edward J. McGinn Jr. described him as a person of interest in the case.

Investigators said they were treating the woman's death as a homicide because autopsy findings suggested Ms. Coughlin was dead before the fire occurred.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Quinlan, who requested the $250,000 cash bail that was set by Judge Robert C. Cosgrove, said Mr. Shippee, the 48-year-old beating victim and Ms. Coughlin, whom he did not identify by name, had been drinking together before Mr. Shippee's alleged sexual assault on the woman.

The other man armed himself with a metal object and tried to prevent Mr. Shippee from attacking the woman, according to the prosecutor. Mr. Quinlan said Mr. Shippee disarmed the man and beat him "senseless" with the blunt object. In support of his bail request, Mr. Quinlan showed the judge a photograph of the beating victim in the hospital.

The assistant district attorney said Mr. Shippee then left the Main Street building, flagged down a police officer and falsely reported he had been attacked by three men. Mr. Shippee, who limped into the courtroom prisoners' dock for his arraignment yesterday, was taken to the hospital and discharged at 11 p.m. Sept. 12, according to Mr. Quinlan.

A few hours later, the man who had been beaten awoke to find the Main Street building - known as a haven for drug and alcohol abusers - ablaze, the prosecutor said. Fire officials saw the man walking out of the building upon their arrival.

Ms. Coughlin's body was found by firefighters on the second floor of the 2-1/2-story building. An autopsy showed an absence of soot or heat damage in her trachea, an indication she was not breathing at the time of the fire, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The cause of Ms. Coughlin's death has yet to be determined.

In 1990, Mr. Shippee was sentenced to 15 to 20 years in state prison for a knife attack on a woman who was working alone in a Congdon Street warehouse. He was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to rape, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in the 1989 attack.

Mr. Quinlan told Judge Cosgrove his request for $250,000 cash bail was based on the nature of the offenses with which Mr. Shippee is charged and his violent criminal history. The prosecutor said Mr. Shippee remains on probation for carrying a dangerous weapon and posed a high risk of flight if released from custody.

At the request of lawyer Peter L. Ettenberg, who was appointed to represent Mr. Shippee at his arraignment only, Judge Cosgrove set the bail without prejudice, allowing for a reconsideration at a future bail hearing.

Mr. Shippee's case was continued to Oct. 23.
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