- Rosedenies confession (05-08-07)
- 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)
A defense expert on Tuesday criticized the state's investigation of a deadly apartment fire, saying he thought there were "quite a bit of discrepancies and problems" in the investigation that led to the suspect who's now on trial.
"A fire investigation is like any other investigation. It is a jigsaw puzzle, and you should try and locate as many pieces as possible," said Curtis Huckshorn, a fire consultant who is chief of the Central Cass County Fire Protection District in Missouri. He said he thought prosecutors had "maybe three pieces of the puzzle."
Huckshorn testified that it couldn't be ruled out that the fire at the Boardwalk Apartments was accidental and that it's likely the fire started on the first floor of the building, rather than on the second floor as prosecutors claim. In response, prosecutors spent much of the afternoon picking apart Huckshorn's work on the case.
Huckshorn took the stand on the second day of testimony by defense witnesses in the murder and arson trial of Jason A. Rose, who is charged with killing three people and injuring seven others in the Oct. 7, 2005, fire. Other witnesses on Tuesday included Rose's foster care father figure, Robert Kidder, who testified that Rose didn't have a reputation in foster care as a fire starter and that Rose once admitted under pressure that he stole a pair of gloves from another group home resident - even though the gloves later turned up.
"He had confessed to something he didn't do?" defense attorney Ron Evans asked.
"Absolutely," Kidder said.
Evans is trying to make the case that Rose's videotaped confession to police, in which he admitted setting fire to a box full of paperwork outside the building's second floor, may have been coerced, given Rose's limited mental ability. Huckshorn's testimony about the fire aimed to paint the picture that the fire couldn't have started the way Rose claimed it did in the confession.
Huckshorn said his review of the case included looking through written reports and photographs from the investigation and talking to Rose and the apartment complex's manager. In his view, he said, there were only two scenarios that could have caused the fire to spread so quickly: one was that "quite a bit of flammable or combustible liquids were used," and the other was that some apartment or utility room on the first floor "had been cooking for hours, and finally broke loose, which gave a tremendous amount of heat availability to catch the rest of the apartment building on fire."
Investigators found no traces of accelerants at the fire scene.
Huckshorn pointed out that a federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who testified last week showed the jury a picture of one door from the first floor that wasn't substantially damaged by fire. At the time, the ATF agent, Doug Moore, said that lent evidence to the theory that the fire didn't start on the first floor.
"The problem," Huckshorn said, "is there are 12 doors on the first floor. Where are ... the other 11?"
Huckshorn also said he found 11 references in witnesses' statements to electrical problems in the building and 11 references to people hearing some kind of an explosion.
But on cross-examination, he acknowledged to Assistant District Attorney David Melton that there were no witnesses who described hearing an explosion before they saw fire, and that all the explosions they described happened once the building already was burning.
Huckshorn said there were 12 eyewitnesses accounts that lent support to a finding that the fire began on the first floor - for example, second-floor resident Shelby Oaks' account that she stepped on burning-hot linoleum on the floor of her apartment, and other first-floor residents' claim that they saw the stairwells on their floor on fire.
But when Melton asked Huckshorn to discuss each of the 12 witnesses one at a time, some of them didn't hold up to scrutiny.
For example, one witness Huckshorn included in the tally actually told investigators that he was on the bottom floor and saw flames coming from overhead, according to reports Melton cited in court. Another witness included in the tally said he saw the fire appear to be spreading from the third floor of the building down to the first.
"I'm not sure why I had that one," Huckshorn said.
Huckshorn also acknowledged to Melton that he hadn't read parts of the investigative file, including the reports from the witnesses who are believed to be the first ones to see the fire and claim they saw it on the second floor.
Disputed state records
Other defense witnesses Tuesday included Kimberley S. Smith, an employee of the state's department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, who testified about contents of a 7,500-page file that documents Rose's time growing up in state custody. She cited an incident in which Rose was implicated for a smoldering glove found in a trash can, six incidents of playing with matches or lighters when he was 7 or 8, and a time he made a threat to blow up a house.
But in response to defense attorney Evans' questions, Smith did not cite any clear-cut instances of fire-setting reflected in the file while he was in state custody.
On cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Amy McGowan, Smith acknowledged that Rose did receive counseling for fire-setting behaviors, according to the documents.
"There must have been some incidents of fire-setting behavior" in the file, McGowan said.
"Yes," Smith answered.
Today likely will be the last day the defense calls witnesses in the trial. Prosecutors rested their case Monday after testimony from about two dozen witnesses.