Back story: Jason Rose's testimony
- Jurysees suspect confess, deny fire(05-05-07)
- Rosechanges stories in video (05-04-07)
- Detectivedescribes interview as 'calm' (05-03-07)
- Witnessdescribes 'angriest' fire (05-02-07)
- Juryseated in Boardwalk fire retrial (05-01-07)
- Newarson trial for Rose begins today (04-30-07)
- Subpoenas tothe World Company (.pdf)
- Commentto story "Jurors watch taped police interrogation of Rose"(02-09-07)
His entire confession was a lie.
That's what a man charged with setting a deadly apartment fire told jurors Monday when he took the witness stand in his own defense. During 40 minutes of testimony, defendant Jason A. Rose told jurors he admitted setting the October 2005 fire at Lawrence's Boardwalk Apartments only because he wanted police to stop questioning him.
"I thought if I thought of something that they would believe, they would leave me alone," Rose told jurors.
The testimony came at the outset of Rose's second week on trial for charges of murder, arson and aggravated battery. Prosecutors rested their case Monday afternoon, leaving Rose's defense team to begin telling its side of the story.
"Did you start this fire?" defense attorney Ron Evans asked Rose.
"No, I did not," Rose answered.
"You swear that to this jury?" Evans asked.
"Yes," Rose said.
One of the final prosecution witnesses to testify Monday was the woman who brought about a mistrial during Rose's first trial in February when she came forward unexpectedly and posted allegations about Rose on the Journal-World's Web site.
Emily Robinson on Monday told jurors what she had posted online: that she overheard Rose in summer 2005 saying he planned to set a spectacular fire as soon as he moved out of foster care and got his own apartment.
"He said that once he moves out into his own place, he's going to set it on fire," Robinson said. "He said it would be the biggest, most beautiful fire he had seen."
Robinson, 21, testified that Rose made that statement amid a group of four people at a youth group meeting at Victory Bible Church in Lawrence. But one of the people Robinson claims overheard the statements, Darya Nazarenko, took the stand Monday as a defense witness to say she'd never heard Rose say such a thing.
"I'm very positive that never happened," Nazarenko said.
Rose began his testimony by telling jurors about his background: that he was born in 1985 in Wichita, that his is an adopted name and that he's been told he was taken away from his home at a young age because his father sexually and physically abused him.
He described moving into the Boardwalk Apartments after he graduated high school and no longer could live at The Villages, a foster care group home. He said he worked two jobs - one at Taco Bell and one at Wendy's - and bought a GMC Jimmy with his own money.
He testified that he worked at Taco Bell the night of the fire until a little after 11 p.m., stopped to get $10 of gas, then arrived about 11:30 p.m. at his apartment at the Boardwalk complex in the 500 block of Fireside Drive.
"I went into my apartment, sat down in my recliner and started watching TV," he said.
That's where his version of events departs from what he told detectives during eight hours of videotaped interviews.
In the videotape, Rose tells detectives he went outside his apartment twice that night to smoke a cigarette, something he testified Monday didn't happen.
In the video, he says after hours of interrogation and several changed stories that he walked to the second floor of the building and set fire to a box full of birthday cards and photographs. That never happened either, he told jurors Monday.
Rose tells the detectives in the video that he has a problem with starting fires. But in court, he testified he's never been a firestarter and has never been in trouble for setting fires.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Amy McGowan asked Rose to take jurors through all the things he said to police during his interview and point out which statements were lies. In the end, he acknowledged to McGowan that the only things he told police the truth about were that he'd worked at Taco Bell that night, put $10 of gas in his car, arrived home at 11:30 p.m. and watched TV inside his apartment.
"You say you've made everything else up because you thought they'd just leave you alone?" McGowan asked.
"Yes," Rose answered.
"And that's what you want this jury to believe?"
"Yes," Rose answered.
"Nothing further," McGowan said.
Online posting disputed
Prosecutors rested their case shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, following a week of testimony from about two dozen witnesses.
Robinson's account that she heard Rose talk about setting the fire only came to light in February during Rose's first trial, after she described the comments in an online posting at LJWorld.com under the name "truth_society."
Asked Monday why she didn't come forward sooner, Robinson said it was partly because she didn't want the attention and partly because she thought other people would have taken the same concerns to police.
Robinson is an employee of Free State Studios, which is owned by The World Company, the same company that owns the Journal-World.
"Working for the media, knowing that I might get exploited, I didn't know what to expect," she said. "I had a lot of fear about what people would think."
She made the post, she said, because she wanted to spur conversation about the subject and because she'd noticed that nothing about the comments had come out in media accounts of the first trial.
Robinson testified that she told youth leaders about the conversation the same day it happened. But the next witness in the case, Lesley Mutuku, who was a youth leader at the church at the time, testified she recalled Robinson coming to her about it only after the fire happened.
Rose's defense is expected to last throughout the day today and into Wednesday.
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.