Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Jury views fire video

Survivors describe ‘chaotic’ scene

February 8, 2007



It was one of the worst fires in the city's history and today the man accused of setting it, goes on trial. Enlarge video

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 in the first day of testimony in the Jason Rose murder trial Wednesday saw Dobson's entire video - 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 that he saw the flames originate from the second floor of the apartment building, the place where police have said defendant Jason A. Rose allegedly started the fire.

Rose has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of aggravated arson and seven counts of aggravated battery in connection with the fire.

Most of Wednesday's testimony focused on those who were at the scene the night of the fire: police officers, residents and one victim. Their testimony painted a chaotic picture of people scrambling to both help others and to get away from the blazing building.

Defense: opening remarks

Defense attorney Ron Evans makes his opening remarks. Enlarge video

Lawrence police Sgt. Max Miller and Officer David Ernst, two of the first emergency responders on the scene, told the jury of their dash around the complex, tending to people who had been burned and had broken bones from jumping out third-story apartment windows.

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 building, he saw flames had engulfed most of the second floor, the third floor and the roof.

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."

Under questioning from the prosecution, Miller said that the scene was "chaotic."

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 eventually jumped, with Maybell landing in a stairwell and breaking several bones.

Prosecution: opening remarks

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

Police officer Todd Polson said that when he arrived, another officer pointed out the blood on the shattered glass in the window from which Maybell jumped.

"He was just filleting his stomach open," Polson told the jury.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the complex, former Boardwalk Apartments resident David Thomas watched at least three people jump from the burning third-story balcony, he told jurors Wednesday.

Thomas lived in another Boardwalk Apartments building just across Fireside Drive.

He testified that he then saw another woman, thought to be fire victim Nicole Bingham, take a few steps outside of her apartment before falling 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.

Surviving victim McHatton, a former Kansas University student, told jurors that she made it across her flaming balcony and stairwell, but only after suffering severe burns to her hands, feet and face.

"Once I started, I wasn't going to be able to stop," McHatton said of her sprint across the burning walkway. "There was no turning back."

Rose's attorney, Ron Evans, questioned witnesses about what they recalled of where the fire appeared to originate. According to investigators and previous testimony in hearings, the fire began in the middle of the second-story walkway. Rose allegedly told police that he had started a small fire there - although Evans in his opening statements said that because of previous abuse Rose had the mind "of a 7-year-old," which slanted his testimony.

In questioning Dobson, Evans scrutinized the videographer's testimony that the flames appeared to come from the second floor, even after he told police the day after the fire that the flames started on the top floor.

Dobson responded that after all this time he couldn't really remember where the fire appeared to begin - and that his comments the day after the fire were likely more accurate than his testimony Wednesday.

"I can't guess with confidence on that," Dobson said.

Testimony is scheduled to continue today.


thanksforcoming 11 years, 3 months ago

7 yr olds know right from wrong. I lived about 30 steps from the building that burned. That was the scariest thing I have ever seen or been a part of.

Ragingbear 11 years, 3 months ago

If he had the mind of a 7yr old, then why was it that he was able to hold a full time job, and rent his own apartment? His lawyer is a retard. Child abuse has nothing to do with any sort of developemental disability.

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago

Yes this case should be going on and be heard! He is not retarded, he just has a past that has followed him through his life. Be open minded and remember that you will not hear everything that there is to hear, because you are not in the court room. As they stated, they picked jurys that would be open minded - guess that is why you are not on the jury!

costello 11 years, 3 months ago

thanksforcoming: The argument isn't that he has the mind of a 7 year old, therefore he doesn't know right from wrong, therefore he can't be held responsible for setting the fire.

The argument is that he has the mind of a 7 year old, therefore his confession is unreliable.

It's a demonstrated fact that children will make false confessions when interrogated using tactics designed to make adults confess. A child will change his story to please the interrogator.

Notice that the defense attorney is asking the witnesses about what they were able to see about where the fire apparently originated. Then he can compare that to the confession and see if it matches the physical evidence and eye witness accounts. If what Mr. Rose said he did seems to fit the other evidence, that would strongly indicate that the confession was real. If not, then the argument could be made that Mr. Rose "confessed" to please the interrogators or to end the interrogation - as a child might do.

costello 11 years, 3 months ago

Raging Bear: You're totally wrong. Early abuse and neglect can and does cause developmental problems. We learn empathy and cause and effect thinking during our earliest years through close interaction with our mother (or primary caregiver). An infant who lacks a consistent and adequate caregiver will probably fail to develop a conscience and other higher brain functions. He or she will live in the more primitive parts of the brain that control primitive emotions like rage and fear and the drive to survive.

MRI's and PET scans of children who experienced early neglect and abuse vividly show the effects on their brains. The parts of the brain that are functioning are the lower, more primitive areas. The frontal areas don't light up as they should. Sometimes the brain is actually smaller than a normal child's.

werekoala 11 years, 3 months ago

My thought is - mind of a seven-year-old or not, if you've demonstrated the ability to kill people through negligence or arson, you need to be kept out of society for the safety of your future neighbors.

I don't know if that needs to be a jail or a supervised mental facility -- that's for the judicial process to determine. But one of the other hallmarks of a child's mind is inability to learn from past mistakes -- we don't need this guy loose on the streets to set other fires, and take other victims.

The really scarey part of this is, there's probably hundreds more folks with a similar history in this community who through luck or circumstance have not yet made a mistake that takes the lives and homes of dozens of innocent victims.

costello 11 years, 3 months ago

werekoala: My understanding is that his defense is that he didn't do it. If he didn't do it, he shouldn't be locked up. That's why they're having the trial - to determine if he did it or not.

I agree that if he did it, he probably needs to be kept out of society.

Most people with Mr. Rose's history would not commit a crime of this nature. I'd hate to think that people would fear everyone who lived in foster care. My son was adopted from foster care. I hope he'll grow up to be a happy, productive member of society. At worst he may be a thief (I'm still trying to break him of stealing). He certainly isn't a fire-setter!

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago

I do believe that he needs help. I do not believe that he was out to kill anyone intentionally. He wanted to see a fire and was not in the frame of mind that was telling him "this could turn tragic" I do not believe that this behavior will be fixed by being put into jail for life, but he needs the mental help. But, this has nothing to do with being in a foster home, I was bounced around in foster homes 7 times as a child and I turned out fine

costello 11 years, 3 months ago

Hi smartpuppy: Thanks for the reminder that a lot of kids from foster care turn out fine. I hope my boy does too. Unfortunately for a lot of kids, foster care is a very damaging experience.

I agree that he probably set the fire and probably didn't intend to hurt anyone. I also agree he needs mental help rather than incarceration. But people who do incredibly dangerous things like setting their living rooms on fire - particularly if they live in an apartment building - put other people at risk. We can't as a society let people who've demonstrated a capacity to do such things run around endangering others. What are our choices? Prison or a mental hospital?

The law says that if someone dies as a result of a felony you've committed, you can be charged with murder even if you didn't intend the death.

Sadly, Mr. Rose will probably be found guilty and sentenced to prison where he won't get any help for his problem. If and when he's returned to society, he won't be any better equipped to handle it than he is now. Punishing him won't do any good, because you can't punish a mental illness out of someone.

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago

Costello, I agree with you totally, that he will probably be found guilty and not get the help that he needs. As one of those 101 people sitting and waiting to see if I was going to be on that jury - it was very apparent that the questions was - "did he say he did it, only because he was pressured to admit?" by the long interragation? Was profiling of being in a foster home a factor? If only I was a fly in the court room!

costello 11 years, 3 months ago


Branson won't be getting my vote.

My son is being prosecuted for an incident in school from Nov. 2005. It was a minor incident and one which stems from the disabilities caused by his early mistreatment. I made the school aware of his problems before he ever darkened their door and told them he needed to be supervised during transition periods, because he's immature, impulsive, and lacking in good judgement. The school proceeded to ignore me and let him run wild until he was involved in this stupid incident during a class change time. He was flicking another kid in the ear. The other kid got irritated. My son wouldn't stop, and they ended up poking at each other. When the SRO mirandized him, my son - who was barely 14 at the time (chronologically - much younger emotionally) - waived his rights and "confessed."

He's scheduled for trial for misdemeanor battery on Mar. 7 - 15 months after the alleged crime - which would have been treated as a school disciplinary matter in another day and age.

I got letters from his therapists showing that he was getting treatment and that he has improved markedly over the last two years. But it matters not. Our brave, noble prosecutor must see that my son is punished.

It might make some sense to prosecute a child like my son if he weren't getting help at home. But my child is getting mega help and actually benefitting from it.

Obviously some in the prosecutor's office have too much time on their hands.

Not only will I not vote for Branson, I'll be giving my money and energy to whomever runs against him!

Bob Kidder 11 years, 3 months ago

Slow down folks. No one has said that Jason has a mental illness. Nor, is mental defect Jason's defense. Jason does have some emotional and intellectual development delay. The defense will make the case that Jason's inability to process the interrogation caused him to falsely confess to arson for two reasons. First, Jason wanted to please adults and authority. Second, Jason believed that by telling the Detectives what they wanted to hear that he would be able to go home. Both ideas expressed by Detective Squires during Jason's NINE hour interview. An interview, by the way, wherein Jason denied any wrongdoing for the nine hours until he grasped the idea that he could leave if he confessed. Jason has a history of telling an authority figure what they want to hear in order to end the pressure of being grilled. Jason would not have given thought to the consequences of confessing since an authority figure (Detective Squires) told him that it would be over if he just confessed. My other posts express other problems with the prosecution's case.

By the way, Jason does know the difference between right and wrong. Can we say the same for Detective Squires?

costello 11 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the additional info at the link to yesterday's trial coverage, think_b4_you_speak. I hope Mr. Rose gets a fair trial and all the evidence is heard and weighed.

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago

Think_b4u_speak: Are you a witness to Jason not having a mental illness or abuse? Do you know what really was said in the interview with Detective Squire? Were you in the jury selection room when we were being told the charges and hearing both sides of the defense and prosecution? No - I didn't think so - then you do not know the whole story or heard the whole story (only what the JWorld has posted) If you were, then you would know about Jason's past.

Bob Kidder 11 years, 3 months ago

onesmartpuppy: Yes I am a witness to Jason not having a mental illness. I have known him for over five years. I have also had several interviews with the Detectives. No, I was not in the Jury room since we were told it would be too crowded to attend. No, I could care less what the Journal World prints due to their inaccuracies. Finally, yes - I have very complete knowledge of Jason's past. Apology accepted.

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago

If it is not a mental illness and you have known him so long...why are you not in the court room giving your side of the story? If you are a witness for him not having a disability then you should have been in there telling both side what you know expecially for the defense.

Bob Kidder 11 years, 3 months ago


There is this thing called "sequestering rule". I will speak for him when the defense attorney calls me. In the meantime I am not allowed in the courtroom; nor, would they allow me to just start telling my side of the story.

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago


As I expected, if you were to be a defense for him, you would have been called to the court room to testify and plus you would have been directed to read the newspaper nor watch the news

onesmartpuppy 11 years, 3 months ago


directed NOT to read the newspaper nor watch the news

Claire Williams 11 years, 3 months ago

onesmartpuppy....that is for jurors, not witnesses.

m1983 11 years, 3 months ago

hey "onesmartpuppy" it's hard to be openminded when someone has confessed to causing a fire that killed one of your close friends..

what his life has been like, his ability to process what he's done, or feel emotion or emphathy has NOTHING to do with the effect his actions should have on his life. if someone burns down an entire complex, there is punishment. MANY people with highly dsyfuntional upbringings turn out ok, or at least understand that you don't kill people..

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