Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Rose trial update: Jurors view video of deadly fire

Trial opens for Jason Rose

February 7, 2007, 10:26 a.m. Updated February 7, 2007, 4:43 p.m.


Defense: opening remarks

Defense attorney Ron Evans makes his opening remarks. Enlarge video

Prosecution: opening remarks

Assistant District Attorney David Melton gives his opening statement. Enlarge video

To find Jason Rose guilty of three counts of murder, the jurors in Rose's trial don't have to find that Rose tried to burn the whole building down - or even that he meant to hurt anyone.

They only have to find that he started the Boardwalk Apartments fire on the night of Oct. 7, 2005.

That was the case set out by prosecutors during opening remarks Wednesday morning during an hour-long statement that delved into each fire victim, police officers who responded to the scene and what Rose said to Detective Troy Squire during a police interview.

Assistant District Attorney David Melton told jurors about the struggles of each fire victim that night - from broken bones to burned hands and feet, to the bodies of the three victims found throughout the 76-unit-complex.

"Three people lost their lives in that fire, many more were injured, some horribly," Melton said. "The evidence will show it was deliberately set." Melton also explained what the taped police interview would show, including a statement from Rose explaining that he "just wanted to see something burn that night."

But defense attorney Ron Evans told jurors during his opening remarks that Rose wasn't capable of giving an honest statement during the interrogation because of his mental state - which Evans described as the equivalent of a seven-year-old boy.

"But they kept after him and after him," Evans said of the police interview. "So he does what a 7-year-old boy does. He gave them what they want to shut them up, so they'd leave him alone."

It appears much of the trial will hinge on the alleged confession, because, as Evans pointed out to jurors this morning, there is little evidence and no eye-witnesses to the crime.

Update: 11:15 a.m.

One of the first police officers to arrive at Boardwalk Apartments, David Ernst told jurors this morning that the scene he walked into the night of Oct. 7 quickly turned from what appeared to be a "porch fire" to a mad scramble to save lives of some fire victims.

Ernst testified that when he arrived that night, he saw an orange glow, smoke and a balcony railing on fire. But after seeing the entire length of the 76-unit-complex, he saw flames had engulfed most of the second floor, third floor and roof of the building.

After talking to residents huddled outside, Ernst said he walked toward the back parking lot and found a woman burned on her hands, feet and face - fire victim Leigh McHatton.

"I stayed there and just comforted her," Ernst said. "She was definitely distraught."

After the flames and explosions crept toward her, Ernst told jurors he carried the Kansas University student to safety, across the street. Using a diagram of the entire Boardwalk Apartments complex, Ernst mapped the course of his night until, at least two hours later, he left to allow fire investigators to begin searching for a cause, and bodies.

Update: 12:24 p.m.

The first signs of Jason Rose's defense began to take shape this morning, as Rose's attorney, Ron Evans, tried to cast doubt in jurors' minds about where the Boardwalk Apartments fire might have started.

In earlier court proceedings, Detective Troy Squire testified that during an interview with Rose, Rose admitted to starting a small fire on the second floor of the 76-unit complex and then trying to put the fire out with a doormat - likely the doormat of fire victim Leigh McHatton.

McHatton testified today that she rushed from her apartment the night of Oct. 7, 2005, after seeing flames outside of her apartment door. She said she ran from her apartment through a flaming stairwell with a blanket over her head and a pair of leather-strapped sandals on her feet.

"Once I started, I wasn't going to be able to stop," McHatton said. "There was no turning back."

McHatton said she was eventually carried to safety by a neighbor and then officer David Ernst, who testified earlier this morning. Prosecutors then showed jurors three images of McHatton's severely burned hands and feet, which took months to recover.

But during cross-examination, Evans asked whether McHatton noticed the doormat outside of her door that night when she looked out to see where the heat was coming from.

"You didn't notice the mat had been disturbed as if someone had tried to beat out the fire?" Evans asked.

McHatton replied, "No."

"Do you think you would have noticed that?"

"It's possible," McHatton said.

McHatton also said that from what she could tell, the stairwell was burning hotter, more rapidly, than the rest of the second floor's wooden walkway where investigators and Squire said the fire likely started. But she said that regardless, the world she saw outside of her apartment door that night was wholly on fire - a "wall of flames."

Update: 2:33 p.m.

One of the first officers on the scene of the Boardwalk Apartments fire helped rescue those who had jumped out of third-story apartments, all while ducking explosions over his head.

That was part of the testimony of Lawrence Police Sgt. Max Miller this afternoon. Miller, along with Officer David Ernst, was one of the first two emergency responders on the scene in the early-morning hours of Oct. 7, before fire or ambulances arrived.

Under questioning from the prosecution, Miller said that the scene was "chaotic" when he first arrived, with two of the fire victims among the first people he saw in the apartment. Miller testified that he saw two people, earlier identified as Boardwalk resident Demarquis Maybell and his girlfriend, LeAndra Hood, leaning out of a third story window screaming for help. Both residents eventually jumped, with Maybell landing in a stairwell and breaking several bones.

During the first few minutes of the fire, Maybell said that he also assisted Eli Greenbaum and his girlfriend, Dawn Davis, when they jumped from Greenbaum's third-floor residence. Davis jumped before officers could get there to assist her, Miller said, breaking her back and several other bones during the fall. To help Greenbaum, Miller said he and another officer stretched out a blanket as a trampoline to break his fall. Greenbaum jumped feet-first, Miller said, and broke his heels on impact. During cross-examination, Miller admitted under questioning from Rose's attorney, Ron Evans, that he couldn't pinpoint exactly where the fire appeared to start - only that it originated from about the middle of the building.

Earlier this afternoon, a friend of fire victim Yolanda Riddle testified about her friends' activities the night of the fire. Evans had no questions for the witness. Currently, apartment manager Donna Watson is explaining to the jury the layout of the Boardwalk Apartments - including the location of the stairwells, walkways and apartment transformers.

Update: 3:20 p.m.

A neighbor of the burned-down building at the Boardwalk Apartments gave graphic testimony today - the third witness to describe what they saw the night three people died in the blaze defendant Jason Rose is accused of starting.

David Thomas, 25, Eudora, lived across the walkway from the apartments the night the apartment started, he testified in court today.

Thomas said he looked outside his door across the walkway when his cable cut out and his dog began barking at the door. Outside, he saw towering flames reaching from about three-fourths of the 76-unit apartment complex next door.

As he watched, he saw at least three people run from their third-floor apartments and leap over the burning walkway railing down to the grass below, he said. He also saw a woman - believed to be fire victim Nicole Bingham - walk three steps from her door and collapse to her knees, never to get back up.

"The fire was all around her. She was running through a big wall of fire," Thomas said.

Update: 4:30 p.m.

When Andrew Dobson lived in Las Vegas, he got used to the noises of the night - people screaming at all hours, gunshots ringing out.

But the sudden shouting that broke the silence in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2005, stirred the native New Zealander who had, just weeks earlier, moved into the Boardwalk Apartments.

Dobson looked outside, he said, and saw the apartment next door on fire.

"And then I started filming," Dobson said.

Jurors for the first time saw the whole of Dobson's video today - a video that showed flames towering above trees, captured voices of women screaming and men yelling, "Get back, get back," and Dobson himself bowing to the fire's heat and moving away from the flames several times.

Dobson, who lived across Fireside Drive from the burning 76-unit complex, told jurors originally that he saw the flames originate from the second floor of the apartment - the place were investigators said the fire likely happened, and the place police have said Rose allegedly started the fire.

But when questioned by Rose's attorney, Ron Evans, Dobson admitted he told police the next day that the flames were coming from the third floor, not the second, and that now he couldn't remember what he saw when he first looked outside. "I can't guess with confidence on that," Dobson said.

Testimony continues this afternoon.


Sigmund 11 years, 2 months ago

This appears to be pretty good reporting by the LJW. I like the facts only approach with no editorializing, and no whose "winning" or "losing." As far as I can tell we are getting pretty good summaries.

gerbilsniper 11 years, 2 months ago

too bad the legal system can't be as unbiased

Sigmund 11 years, 2 months ago

The defense is biased toward the defendant, the prosecution is prejudiced towards the defendant. It is called an "adversarial system" for a reason. It is up to the judge and the jury to determine the truth between these two extremes. Perhaps you know of a better "unbiased" system? Please enlighten us!

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