Archive for Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Witness describes ‘angriest’ fire

Early testimony in Rose murder trial sets scene at 2005 blaze

May 2, 2007


6News video: New jury in Boardwalk Apt. Fire Trial hear grisly details of the tragedy

Tales of pain, suffering, and heroism take center stage as the re-trial for the man accused of setting the deadly Boardwalk Apartment fire gets underway. Enlarge video

On the opening day of his trial, Jason Rose listens to witness testimony in Douglas County District Court. Several witnesses Tuesday described the intense fire in October 2005 at Boardwalk Apartments.

On the opening day of his trial, Jason Rose listens to witness testimony in Douglas County District Court. Several witnesses Tuesday described the intense fire in October 2005 at Boardwalk Apartments.

In video footage and during witnesses' testimony, a blocklong deadly inferno that killed three people in October 2005 came roaring back to life Tuesday in Douglas County District Court.

"It was just the hottest, angriest, hugest fire you've ever seen," said Leigh McHatton, who suffered burns on her hands, feet and face while running through flames to flee the Boardwalk Apartments fire in the 500 block of Fireside Drive.

McHatton was the first victim to testify during what's expected to be a two-week trial for Jason A. Rose, 21, a former apartment resident charged with setting the fire. His first trial on murder, arson and battery charges ended in mistrial in February after prosecutors learned of a new witness midway through the proceedings.

As in the first trial, prosecutors are working their way through the case in chronological order - starting with descriptions of the three-story blaze early on the morning of Oct. 7, 2005, and taking jurors through the investigation that led to Rose.

"Who did this? Who set fire to a building full of people in the middle of the night, when many of them would be asleep?" Assistant District Attorney David Melton asked the jury during his opening statement. "The evidence is going to show, ladies and gentlemen, that it's this man right here. His name is Jason Rose."

Confession challenge

At the center of the case is Rose's disputed confession to police. Melton told jurors they would see the video in which Rose admits to detectives that he set the fire to see something burn.

"This case is deceptively simple, and at its heart are two questions: One, was the Boardwalk fire intentionally set? And two, did Jason Rose do it?" he said. "In both cases you will find that the answer is 'yes.'"

But defense attorney Ron Evans said in his opening statement that the truthfulness of Rose's confession is the "$64,000 question" in the case, and that he started to make admissions to police only after "hours of denials." He said a psychologist would testify about Rose's limited mental abilities related to abuse he suffered as a chid.

But Melton said videotaped interviews will show that "the defendant was not the victim of any kind of police coercion or trickery."

Said Evans, "You can come to your own conclusion : about whether they treated him fairly or not. : At the end of the case, I submit that you'll have a reasonable doubt, and we'll be asking you to find him not guilty."

Witness accounts

Witnesses on Tuesday included Lawrence police officers Max Miller and David Ernst, some of the first emergency workers at the fire. Miller described helping catch people with a blanket as they jumped from burning apartments, and Ernst described finding McHatton on the ground outside the building and pulling her to safety.

Andrew Dobson, who lived in the building across the street, described waking up and seeing the light from the fire.

"I noticed through the bedroom door that the living room was orange," he said. At first he thought he'd left a light on, but when he opened his front door, he said he was "immediately struck by the heat."

Prosecutors played a 10-minute video Dobson shot of the fire. It shows the building engulfed in fire and includes the sound of crackling flames and people shouting, "Get back!"

"I can't stand there. It's too hot," Dobson says at one point on the video.

Three people died in the fire: Kansas University student Nicole Bingham, electrician Jose Gonzalez and social worker Yolanda Riddle. Rose is charged with three counts of murder, one count of aggravated arson and seven counts of aggravated battery related to people who were seriously injured in the fire.

"You do not have to find that Jason Rose intended to burn the entire building down - only that he intended to set fire to part of the building," Melton told jurors. "You do not have to find that Jason Rose intended to kill anyone, and you do not have to find that Jason Rose intended to hurt anyone."

Testimony in the case will resume this morning.


Jamesaust 11 years, 1 month ago

"You do not have to find that Jason Rose intended to burn the entire building down - only that he intended to set fire to part of the building," Melton told jurors. "You do not have to find that Jason Rose intended to kill anyone, and you do not have to find that Jason Rose intended to hurt anyone."

That's a fairly good summary of the standard for felony murder - an intention to commit an inherently dangerous felony, like arson, and people are killed as a result. So, most all testimony will focus on whether Rose (a) did start the fire, and (b) intended to do so. Whatever merit there may be to the defense contention that Rose's confession was unfairly, and falsely, gained, the other evidence of (a) and (b) seem fairly secure (to the extent that ljword coverage can be trusted as insightful as to what's important and not - something often amiss in their courtroom coverage, when they bother).

Hadn't there been an early contention from the first trial that Rose did start a fire but it was away from the building and thereafter spread beyond his control? That would, if believed by the jury, show a lack of intention to commit the felony - arson - and merely lack of adequate precaution in starting a fire, which is not a felony.

trfcprincess 11 years, 1 month ago

You might want to double-check your facts there. There are different degrees of "felony murder" with different intent requirements. Also, if you go back and look at all of the stories in the LJW, you will see that the contention the entire time by both police and eyewitnesses has been that the fire was started in the building.

Jamesaust 11 years, 1 month ago

Thanks princess, but I'll stick with my comment.

Felony murder does not differ by "degrees" - homicide in general was traditionally described by "degrees" such as "first degree murder." I suppose you might call felony murder something like "third degree" murder but you'd just be making up terminology that doesn't and never has existed. "Felony murder" is the term and it dates from pre-American English law. Nor is there a difference in "intent requirements" - one intends to commit the underlying felony or one does not.

Traditional "first degree" or "second degree" murder ALWAYS includes an intention by the killer to commit murder. Felony murder, in contrast, lacks any contention that the killer EVER intended to commit murder; rather, felony murder contends that the killer intend to commit a designated felony and that in consequence someone died. (The death could even be an accomplice of the killer in the crime!)

Rose has NOT been charged with "first degree" (premeditated) murder or "second degree" (unpremeditated but intentional) or even manslaughter (basically, indifferent recklessness). By charging Rose with felony murder, the State is giving up on trying to show that Rose ever intended that anyone die (probably because there's no evidence of that).

Perhaps you are thinking of the contextual facts that one might show as evidence to prove intent? Those will differ between each case. Or perhaps noting that not all felonies are "inherently dangerous" and therefore the intent of the felony is not merged into the intent of murder? For example, while it is a felony to pilfer $1m from your employer, it is not an "inherently dangerous" felony and therefore if (somehow!) that felony lead to a death one could not be charged with felony murder.

Second, my comment is unconcerned with the contention of "police and eyewitnesses" but rather the contention of the defense. If Rose were found to have only been insufficiently careful in setting a (non-arson) fire out on the lawn rather than setting the apartment complex on fire, then he could not be found guilty of felony murder as there is not intention to commit any felony, either arson or homicide. No intent, no crime.

monkeywrench1969 11 years, 1 month ago


I think it boils down more to what he person started on fire even if it was close to the building and it spiraled out of control. Anyone could argue throwing a cig in the lawn may be accidental or having a grill in the lawn close the building and a coal starting the fire might be considered an accident or lack intention.

But seeing the defense is saying he has low IQ makes me believe he started a fire in a different way on purpose and they are trying to deflect blame because he is not very smart or was abused.

friend_of_victim 11 years, 1 month ago

When did anyone concede that he started the fire outside? It was my understanding that this arson was determined to have been started from the center of the building. Did you see the tapes? That was not a fire from some flamming debris! It was intentional. And besides EVERYONE, including 7 year olds, understand that fire will burn things. And if started in or around an inhabited 92 unit complex, may also burn people, alive! There are no excuses. Shame on the system, shame on his parents, shame on it all, but most of all shame on everyone excusing this murderer from the crime that he committed. He should be responsible for his actions, even if HIS fire spread beyond his control. Also, when you commit a felony, like arson, and people burn alive in the process, you are considered the responsible party and charged with felony murder, thats where that comes from, by the way. There is absolutely no doubt that when a person starts a fire in the middle of the night in a complex of that size, they INTEND for people to die, I think that helps meet the statute too...

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