Archive for Sunday, February 4, 2007

Wait almost over for murder, arson trial

Jury selection set to begin Tuesday, 16 months after fire killed three residents

February 4, 2007


The murder trial of accused arsonist Jason Allen Rose begins with jury selection Tuesday - the culmination of 16 months worth of pain, rebuilding, accusations and courtroom wrangling.

The October 2005 fire killed three residents of the Boardwalk Apartments.

Kansas University student Nicole Bingham, 21, electrician Jose Gonzalez, 50, and social worker Yolanda Riddle, 33, were killed in the fire. More than a dozen others were injured and left homeless.

Rose's acquittal or conviction could hinge on two factors: whether he intended to set the apartment on fire and whether his history of abuse allowed him to accurately confess the crimes to police.

But this much is sure: since the apartment burned more than a year ago, much has transpired with Rose, the fire victims and the city as a whole.

Come to grips

In a matter of hours the night of Oct. 7, 2005, flames had killed three, wounded 18 and leveled a blocklong, 76-unit apartment building at the Boardwalk Apartments in the 500 block of Fireside Drive.

According to insurance estimates, the fire incinerated more than $5 million in residences and personal property.

But the property, Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr said, can often be invaluable. For example, the fire destroyed many music artifacts destined for the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.

"We would have a difficult time estimating the value of all the property there," Barr said.

In the days after the fire, residents, family members and fire investigators searched for answers - and the identities of three bodies found charred inside.

Five days after the fire leveled the apartments, prosecutors charged then 20-year-old Rose, a resident in the apartments, with three counts of murder, aggravated arson and a host of aggravated batteries for each injured resident.

As the families of the three victims and other injured residents searched for help from the Red Cross and others, Rose's history began to trickle out through court proceedings and sources from his past.

Rose once lit a trash can on fire at a group home where he lived before moving to Boardwalk. He was also arrested as a juvenile for stealing lighters from a hardware store - a fact that jurors won't hear in court this week.

But jurors will be allowed to hear a confession Rose gave to police Detective Troy Squire in the days after the fire. Whether that confession was wholly accurate, however, will be hotly debated in Judge Jack Murphy's courtroom.

Squire testified in a preliminary hearing last year that Rose eventually admitted to setting a box of paperwork on fire in the complex after what Squire described as Rose's "struggles with deception."

But Rose's defense attorney, Ron Evans, asked Squire in court if his client could have been struggling mentally.

"Could be a lot of things," Squire said at the time. "I took it as deception."

Evans filed a motion to have the confession suppressed. But Murphy didn't agree, allowing both the confession and testimony from the defense's expert witness, KU professor Yolanda Jackson.

Jackson has spent hours with Rose since he was charged, learning about his troubled past and trying to glean whether the confession he gave during an hourslong police interview might have been slanted by the experiences that have shaped his life.

But for the victims and the city, the trial won't only be about experiences that shaped Rose's life. In some ways, the deadly fire is still changing the landscape of the city.

Fire code changes

Shortly after the fire, city officials vowed to change city fire codes to require that apartments of all sizes have sprinklers.

Barr has been revising a letter asking city administrators to consider a change in the city's fire code - requiring sprinkler systems for all new apartment complexes built in the city.

But Barr is anticipating some confusion if the new code - the 2006 version of the International Fire Code - is put in place as is.

That's because the IFC mandates that all residential units, even single-family homes and duplexes, have sprinkler systems installed.

Both the city's neighborhood resources department and the Building Code Board of Appeals wants to see another code put in place that would override the IFC for one- or two-family units - such as the International Residential Code.

But unless that happens at the same time as the implementation of the IFC, builders could be stuck installing sprinklers on all new homes until a new residential code is in place.

"That's a big question," Barr said, "and something the City Commission is going to ask."

Gag order

Since the fire, many victims have spent months trying to recuperate from their injuries - severe burns and broken limbs and bones from jumping out of windows to safety.

But many have since moved on with their lives.

KU graduate Leigh McHatton spent months recuperating from her burns at home in Winona, in western Kansas. The 25-year-old suffered burns to her hands, feet and face during the fire.

But she returned to school in February and graduated in May, eventually moving to Denver to pursue a career in art, her father, J.C. McHatton, said.

"In a way, you want to move on and you want to continue," she said just before graduation. "I've really taken ownership of what's happened to me. It's really a part of who I am now."

Eli Greenbaum was also hurt in the fire, breaking both ankles when he leapt from his balcony as his apartment burned. His injuries left him with a limp he struggled to overcome.

Still, Greenbaum earned a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from KU in May, and he is now a postdoctoral research fellow in the labs of Aaron Bauer and Todd Jackman at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. He studies the biology of geckos.

Neither Greenbaum, McHatton or several others injured in the fire returned calls this week.

Murphy has imposed a rare gag order for many involved in the trial - including many victims included in the witness list who could testify.

Family members of the three who died are also included in the witness list. Nicole Bingham's mother, Nancy, said she couldn't comment on her plans for the trial, saying she wanted to remain silent publicly until after the jury returned a verdict.

But Dale Wolford of Quality Electric, who worked with Jose Gonzalez, said he would keep a close eye on the trial as it gets under way Tuesday.

"I know I'll follow it," Wolford said. "I'm curious to see how it all turns out."

Who's Who in the Rose Trial

Amy McGowan Assistant district AttorneyAge: 46Lives in: Kansas CityEducation: J.D. KU, 1984. Bachelors degree in film studies, KU, 1981.In brief: McGowan was hired earlier in 2005 by Dist. Atty. Charles Branson. Before that she had been a Jackson County, Mo. prosecutor since 1988 and previously worked from 1985 to 1988 in the Shawnee County Dist. Atty.'s office. She also prosecuted the state's murder case against Thomas E. Murray, a Kansas State professor convicted in 2005 of killing his wife.

Jason Allen RoseAge: 21Lives in: LawrenceIn brief: Just days after the last embers of the 76-unit building at the Boardwalk Apartments, prosecutors had charged Jason Allen Rose, the just 20 years old, with setting the fire that killed three people. A former group home resident who had just moved into the 76-unit building months before, Rose had a history of arson during his time in foster care - and a bumpy family background often fraught with abuse and abandonment.

Detective Troy SquireAge: 34Experience: 10-year veteran with the Lawrence Police DepartmentIn brief: Squire interviewed Jason Rose at length in the days following the Boardwalk Apartment fire, eventually capturing a confession that jurors will be allowed to weigh as evidence during trial.

Jose GonzalezFire VictimIn Brief: Described as a free spirit and a dedicated worker, Gonzalez died at 50 years old the night of Oct. 7 in the Boardwalk fire. From Edinburg, Texas, he graduated from high school in San Antonio and had lived in Lawrence for more than three years.He worked for Quality Electric, Inc., when he died, leaving behind two sisters, five brothers and a love for pool, sports and his neices and nephews.

Yolanda RiddleFire VictimIn brief: A social worker with a big heart, Riddle worked for the state Social and Rehabilitation Services in Ottawa when she died in the Boardwalk Fire. She earned degrees from Haskell Indian Nations University, Kansas University and Washington University in St. Louis, and was a member of the Dine Indian Nation.Seldom speaking about the job she loved, it took her death for her family to fully understand the passion she had for helping others. She was 35 years old when she died.

Nicole BinghamFire VictimIn brief: A senior at Kansas University when she died in the Boardwalk Apartment fire, Bingham made fast and close friends during her time at the university and in the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.She survived open heart surgery six years before she died, always assuming that her heart defect, not fire, would end her life.

Judge Jack A. MurphyBirthdate: Oct. 10, 1943Admitted to practice in Mo. in 1971.Admitted to practice in KS. 1982.Contact: 785-832-5248

Ronald F. Evans, defense attorney for Jason A. RoseChief Attorney for the Kansas Death Peanality Defense UnitBirthdate: 1957Admitted to practice in Okla. in 1983.Admitted to practice in KS. in 1996In brief: Evans is a capital crimes attorney who has heard death peanility cases in both Kansas and Oklahoma.

Yolanda Jacksonassociate professor in the Department of Applied Behavioral ScienceEducation: Doctorate from University of Alabama and completed internship at Children's Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla.In brief: Jackson, a child development expert, will be one of the defenses primary witnesses. She has interviewed Rose several times, and will help bolster the defense's argument that because of his background of abuse, his confession to police may not have been accurate.


Janis Pool 11 years, 4 months ago

I request that the Journal World report as unbiased as possible. And remember that their printed words can have huge repercussions.

Dayna Lee 11 years, 4 months ago

Please comment thoughtfully. Some great people died and others lost a lot in this.

Rob Gillaspie 11 years, 4 months ago

Too late, Poolside. Every headline they've run on this story has all but sentenced him to die for this... Their attempts to remain objective on this story are laughable at best.

Bassetlover 11 years, 4 months ago

In many ways, Jason Rose was a product of his environment. It's unfortunate his parents can't stand trial with him. Had he grown up in a loving, stable home with parents who nurtured and adored him, his life would have taken a different path.

Claire Williams 11 years, 4 months ago

How the attorneys involved in this case think that trying it in Lawrence will obtain a fair verdict is beyond me. Regardless of whether the guy did it or not, the media saturation on this case is so heavy that I don't know how a jury can be empaneled that wouldn't be biased. If the defense attorney isn't an idiot, they would ask for a change of venue.

Note: before I get flamed, I am not trying to defend Mr. Rose, but all people deserve a fair and unbiased trial.

Sigmund 11 years, 4 months ago

Juries in Lawrence are better educated and far more liberal than in the rest of the State. Therefore they are more willing to listen to defense excuses. Sorry I meant novel defenses and theories (too many twinkie, spanked as a child, framed by the cops, Walmart, Carl Rove, etc).

I have no doubt that the jury will be able to come to their decision based solely upon evidence presented at trial and following the jury instructions. If I were the defense team I would want my trial here, and if I wanted a fair trial (which I wouldn't by the way) I would want this judge.

Sharon Roullins 11 years, 4 months ago

I get chills everytime I think about the phone call I received on that early October morning. My daughter was on the other end, screaming and crying frantically. I thought she said that she had hit someone but after five minutes of her incoherant speech, I finally figured out what she was trying to tell me. Her apartment building was on fire. Yes, she was a victim of this sick individual and she was blessed that she even escaped the inferno. She had to jump out of her second floor bedroom window and in the process, injured herself. She walked around bloodied, dazed and confused. And to be quite honest, she still has flashbacks of that uneventful morning. I am thankful that she survived but it pains me that innocent people lost their lives. My daughter lost everything, including her car. I don't even know what punishment would even fit this psycho but if he has any conscience, maybe the memories of that devastating fire has pained him and made him even the least bit remorseful and apologetic. All I will say is I pray that the healing process has been fulfilled in everyone's lives that was affected by the fire. God bless you all.

m1983 11 years, 4 months ago

as a close friend of nicole bingham it makes me sick to read some of the replies posted by people who suggest that Jason's upbringing should be considered in this case.. MANY people grow up in abusive, disfunctional, crazy, un-loving homes and become civilized adults.. his actions are HIS actions , he made a CHOICE & he needs to be held accountable.

Steve Jacob 11 years, 4 months ago

I can't see a jury going for the bad upbringing defense. Best he can do is he set the fire, did no mean any harm, and that the Boardwalk was a fire trap that caused three deaths.

What I don't understand is why this is a death penalty case in the first place. Unless there is good evidence he did this to kill someone, no way in the world he be put to death. Besides, you get the best public defenders in death penalty cases.

If you can go to your car, get your gun, walk back into the house to kill a man, and not get first degree murder, setting a fire in your wastebasket will not be.

My guess right now, he will serve 10-20 years total. That's a fair punishmant, not the best for people who lost loved ones.

Sigmund 11 years, 4 months ago

I am not a fan of the death penalty for a variety of reason, but if he was responsible for the unlawfull killing of three people, millions of dollars in damage, serious injury to many others, and placing all the residents and the fire fighters that in life threatening circumstances, then the death penalty is appropriate, although to be fair I also would be happy with life without the possibility of parole.

The fact that he didn't specifically intend to kill these three people is not a mitigating circumstance and neither is the fact that that he was spanked too often (or was it he wasn't spanked enough, I forget). It is enough that he intended to start the fire and three people died as a result.

Sigmund 11 years, 4 months ago

A good discussion of the Kansas Death Penalty can be found here: I am really glad I am not a part of that jury, this would be a horrible burden on a juror.

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