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Jerry D. Webster, Witness for the State


MR. PANOSH: Did you want to do another witness?

THE COURT: No. We'll do it after the break.

MR. PANOSH: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: We're going to take our morning recess, members of the jury. It'll be a 15-minute recess. Please report to the jury room at the end of the 15-minute period. Again, remember the juror responsibility sheet and your instructions.

You may now take your morning recess of 15 minutes.


(The jury left the courtroom at 11:00 o'clock a.m.)

THE COURT: You may declare a 15-minute recess, sheriff.

(A recess was taken at 11:00 o'clock a.m.)

(Court reconvened at 11:23 a.m. The defendant was present. The jury was not present.)

MR. PANOSH: Before you bring them in, the next witness would involve a demonstration. The demonstration will take three to five minutes. Counsel has previewed it. It's a demonstration of what happens when fire is in a contained area, and the fact that the fire is suppressed.

THE COURT: Well, he's not going to set the courtroom on fire, is he?

MR. PANOSH: No, sir. We've tested it in this courtroom and it does not set off the fire alarm.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. LLOYD: Your Honor, in light of the way Mr. Panosh handled the video the first time, I think we'd better require more into this.

THE COURT: For what, sir?

MR. LLOYD: I'm just teasing. I've seen it, Your Honor, and it's not dangerous.

THE COURT: Bring them in.

(The jury entered the courtroom at 11:24 a.m.)

THE COURT: The State call its next witness,



MR. PANOSH: Special Agent Webster, please. JERRY D. WEBSTER, being first duly sworn, testified as follows during DIRECT EXAMINATION by MR. PANOSH:

Q    State your name, please.

A    My name is Jerry D. Webster.

Q    And you're a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation; is that correct?

A    That's correct.

Q    How long have you been a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation?

A    I've been employed by the State Bureau of Investigation since March 11, 1974.

Q    And in the course of your training, from 1974 until 1989, you were trained as a special agent; is that correct?

A    Yes, that's correct.

Q    In 1989, did you specialize in any particular fields? A    I actually began a specialty in the field of arson and fire investigation in 1985, and my training in arson investigation actually began then.

Q    All right. Would you detail your training in arson investigation beginning in 1985.

A    Beginning in early 1985, I began attending a number of training sessions, the first of which was a basic firefighter training course conducted by the Wilmington Fire


Department. I was assigned to the Wilmington area at that time, and I had most of my training there.

Since that time, I have attended the National Fire Academy's basic arson detection course, which was a total of 32 classroom hours. I attended several courses conducted by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, including arson for profit, advanced arson for profit, advanced explosives investigation training, advanced cause and origin in courtroom techniques training.

I have also attended at least once a year, and most of the time twice a year, training conferences and training seminars conducted by the International Association of Arson Investigators. The North Carolina chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators is responsible for most of the training in fire investigation that is conducted in North Carolina. They conduct training conferences and training seminars at least twice annually, and I've attended at least one of those every year since 1985.

I have also attended courses offered by the State Bureau of Investigation in intermediate and advanced arson investigation, as well as other training seminars across the country.

Q    And have you been recognized as an expert in the field of arson investigation in the state courts?


A    Yes, I have. I've been qualified as an expert in the field of arson investigation and testified as such in approximately 15 courtrooms, both state and federal.

MR. PANOSH: We would tender him as an expert in the field of arson investigation.

MR. HATFIELD: No objection.

THE COURT: The Court finds Officer Webster or Jerry Webster to be an expert in the field or arson and fire investigation, and by training, education and experience, he may express an opinion in that area.

Q    In addition to your training in the field of arson investigation, you're also a certified dog handler; is that correct?

A    That's correct.

Q    And what type of dog do you have?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection, as irrelevant.

A    The State Bureau of -‑

THE COURT: Sustained.

How is it relevant, sir?

MR. PANOSH: It's used in arson investigation.

THE COURT: Is it in this case?


THE COURT: Overruled.

A    The State Bureau of Investigation employs a number of arson detection or accelerant detection canines, there are a


total of four in the state, under the ownership of the State Bureau of Investigation at this time. In November of 19--of last year, I obtained and successfully completed the training --

MR. HATFIELD: Objection. It's after the time that the incident took place.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    At the time that you investigated this crime, were you using an arson dog?

A    At the time of this investigation, an accelerant detection canine was used by another handler, not myself.

Q    On or about October the 9th of 1995, did you respond to Brandon Station Court at the request of the Guilford County Sheriff's Department, to assist in an arson investigation?

A    Yes. I was contacted and responded on October 11, 1995.

Q    And when you arrived at the scene on October the 11th of 1995, the firefighting procedures were completed and there'd been some degree of cleanup done; is that correct?

A    Yes, that's correct.

Q    Would you tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury how you went about your investigation on October the 11th.

A    I arrived at the scene of this fire at approximately 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon of the 11th of October. I met with fire prevention inspector Ed Rich and fire inspector Ed


Harris, who were at the scene at that time, received a cursory briefing of the events that had occurred prior to my arrival there, and also received some information about the fire investigation efforts that had been conducted, up to the time of my arrival. I then was requested to begin my own investigation for specific purposes, and conducted an investigation there at the scene, using the techniques which I have been trained and qualified to use.

Primarily, what I did there at the scene was, begin by looking at the outside of the -- of the residence, observing the residence itself, the type of structure that was there, the environment, the fact that it was in a wooded area. I walked all the way around the outside of the house, looking at the house, looking at the doors and windows, looking at the roof, and making observations of different things, including smoke -- the appearance of some smoke staining that was, I believe, above one window, and some smoke staining which had occurred at some of the crawl space vents.

I then continued my investigation, by entering the

front door of the house and looking at whatever I could see, once I walked inside the house. I might add that my investigation consisted primarily of looking, looking around, taking mental notes and some physical notes about the things that I actually saw, as I went through -- as I


went around the house and through the house.

I walked in the front door, looked around there. And the front door allowed me access to the living room area. I looked at the living room area. I looked at the glass. I looked at the furniture. I then walked through the living room and into the kitchen area, and conducted an observation there of the fire damage, the heat damage and the smoke damage.

I then observed the fire damage in the hallway of the -- of the residence, the hallway which led actually from the living room and kitchen area into the bedroom or sleeping area of the house. It was there that I noticed a very large hole in the floor in the hallway. There was some fire damage around the hole and against the walls and in different parts of the area immediately surrounding the hole. I was able to step or make my way across the hole there in the floor and looked in all of the bedrooms of the house and looked in the bathroom, making particular -­taking particular notice of the, again, the heat damage, the smoke damage and the fire damage that I could see as I went through the house.

I concluded my investigation or my examination of the inside of the house, by returning from the sleeping area back to the -- back to the area in the hallway where the hole was.


Q    And in the course of your investigation, did you interview persons who'd been at the fire scene prior to you, specifically Ed Rich, Harris?

A    Yes. Well, I didn't conduct a formal interview as law-enforcement techniques dictate. I did receive what I considered to be a briefing about the fire, the time that it had occurred, and some of the information that Inspector Rich had gained.

If I may explain, though. There was very little information shared about Inspector Rich's findings. There are reasons, including ethical reasons, for not discussing specific findings of one investigator with another. It's important that if a second investigator is called to a scene, that he be able to conduct an investigation in a fair and impartial way, without receiving a tremendous amount of information from the former investigators. It allows him to conduct an investigation, as I said, in a fair and impartial way and make his conclusions based on his own findings, and not the findings of someone else.

Q    And based upon those findings, what conclusion or conclusions did you draw in regard to the fire that occurred on October the 9th of 1995 at Brandon Station Court?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection. He should state his findings before he states his conclusion.

THE COURT: Overruled.


A If I may explain. The specific reason that I was there was to try to examine the scene and form an opinion that was satisfactory to myself, about how long this fire had burned. After conducting my investigation, my observations and my

mental and physical notes, I was able to form an opinion satisfactory to myself about the time that -- the length of time that this fire probably burned.

Q    And what was that opinion?

A    It's my opinion that this fire burned in what I would best describe as an open-burning state, that is, open fire, open flame, visible flame, burned furiously because of the quantity of gasoline that was there, for a very short period of time.

After the oxygen in the house was consumed by this furious-burning state, the fire was reduced to a smolder. There was not enough air or oxygen, that is, in the atmosphere inside the house to support this open-burning state. What little material was ignited by the gasoline burning was reduced to a smoldering state, glowing embers, like a cigarette head, like hot coal -- or like coals from a fireplace, with no open flame. This type of smoldering burning, in my opinion, continued in this house for a period in excess of two hours.

And if I may further explain in excess of two hours. This fire could have burned for what I believe to be an


indefinite period in excess of two hours, from the time that the oxygen in the house was depleted below that which would support combustion.

Q    Did you make further findings as to what occurred at or about the time that the fire burned through the flooring?

A    This smoldering state, the glowing embers that were left after the oxygen level was reduced, continued for an indefinite period of time. The smoldering took place primarily in the hallway. This would involve carpeting, it would involve the flooring, it would involve the

subflooring, and the smoldering would continue and did continue in this case, until the smoldering actually burned through the flooring. It was at that time that the oxygen from the floor -- from the crawl space and from the crawl space vents gave this smoldering fire a resupply of oxygen. The fire then would -- then developed from the smoldering state back into an open-burning state, and this open burning was the reason for the -- primary reason for the damage that took place below the floor level.

Once the fire in its smoldering state got a resupply of oxygen, and open burning took place, this open burning took _ place primarily at floor level and below. It is known that fire will not extend into or travel into an area where there is not enough oxygen to support combustion. So even though there was open burning taking place at floor level and below


floor level, this fire did not then spread back into the house and consume the majority of the -- or damage the majority of the items and the articles in the house that were -- that were damaged by the smoke and the heat and the flames. This burning continued in an open-burning state there at and below floor level, until the fire was extinguished by the firefighters.

Q    In your examination of the hole and the areas surrounding the hole, were there particular items or objects that came to your attention that were relevant to your findings?

A    The -- it was the absence of items that attracted my attention, more than the presence of items. I was particularly -- I took particular note of the fact that floor joists, that is, the beams that support your flooring in a house, in and around this hole, were completely burned away. These floor joists are large timbers. In this particular case, the boards were measured -- or commonly -­the common measurement referenced there is a two-by-ten.

The board is lightly less than two inches wide or two inches thick and slightly less than 10 inches wide. In this particular area, there were four of these two-by-ten floor joists burned completely away, or at least at the time that I was there and examined the area, there was -- there was nothing left of these floor joists. They were completely



There's also a beam under the house that I think is referred to as a central beam. It's one very large board or two very large boards that are sandwiched or nailed together, that run the full length or the full width of the house. And in this particular case, there was a central beam that measured two-by-twelve. It was severely damaged and burned completely through in one -- in one spot, as I recall. The considerable amount of fire damage at and below floor level indicated that there had been quite a bit of burning that took place in the open-burning state beneath the floor.

Q    Would you contrast that to the items that you found or observed around the hole above floor level.

A    Again, of particular interest I thought in this -- in this fire was the relative lack of fire damage above the hole. Even though there had been a hole burned in the floor, which measured in excess of six inches in -- six feet in diameter, and everything beneath that hole was completely burned away, completely destroyed, there were items which were readily combustible, such as baseboard molding, carpeting, subflooring and other construction items, that were right at even at the lip of the hole, right at the opening of the hole, that were not damaged at all, relatively speaking, as far as the fire is concerned. There


was some charring that took place above the hole. But by and large, the -- even the baseboard molding right at the edge of the hole was not damaged.

Again, this supported my opinion that most of the fire damage had occurred at and below floor level and had occurred only after the fire had received a resupply of oxygen.

Q    Now, based upon your observations of this particular fire scene, were you able to form an opinion satisfactory to yourself whether this was an accidental or a set fire?

A    Yes, I was.

Q    And what was that opinion?

A    It was my opinion that this fire was deliberately set. As I examined the area there, I detected the odor of a flammable liquid, which I suspected to have been gasoline. I noticed, as far as the electrical wiring is concerned, that there was little or no electrical wiring, no electrical receptacles, in the immediate vicinity of the -- of the hole that had been burned in the floor.

I also noticed fire damage in other parts of the house, including the living room and the kitchen, which displayed what fire investigators call fire patterns, that is, patterns of discoloration or charring or blistering that are caused by fire. And I noticed fire patterns in the living room and in the kitchen, which were consistent in appearance


with fire patterns that are generated by the burning of a -­of flammable or an ignitable liquid on the surface, including blistering on the flooring in the kitchen, some burning that took place on the -- on the sofa in the living room and on the carpet in the living room, that were clear indications that a liquid had been poured across these areas and had burned to some extent.

It was those factors that supported my opinion that this fire was in fact deliberately set.

Q    Now, are you familiar with the characteristics of flammable liquids such as gasoline, and specifically gasoline?

A    Yes.

Q    Would you explain to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury what happens when a flammable liquid and particularly gasoline is poured over a large area. And drawing your attention to the blackboard, is that red area essentially where you saw the pour pattern?

A    Yes, it is. Gasoline is a petroleum product. It's a liquid. It is -- the weight of gasoline, the specific gravity of gasoline, that is, the overall weight of gasoline, is lighter than water.

Gasoline is a product which gives off vapors continuously, until the temperature of the gasoline reaches 45 degrees below zero. So at any temperature above 45


degrees below zero, gasoline is actively and continuously giving off vapors. Those vapors, when mixed with the proper supply of oxygen, form a combustible mixture. There are statistics that are called lower explosive limits and upper explosive limits that deal with the quantity or the percentage of gasoline mixed with oxygen that is required to support open combustion. All of us deal with the products of incomplete combustion with our cars, when they have ignition problems or when you have fuel supply problems.

In this particular case, the gasoline that was poured in this house continuously gave off vapors, until they -­the vapors were ignited or consumed by the fire. Gasoline vapors are about three or four times heavier than air. Therefore, gasoline vapors, when they're in an open space, will have a tendency to sink to the lowest level in the compartment. In a house, if there's gasoline poured in a house, the gasoline vapors will remain at floor level. But because gasoline is continuously giving off vapors, these vapors will remain at lower levels, but they will continually build in quantity. And so, in a house or any kind of a confined space, where there's no ventilation, where the doors and windows are shut, the vapors in a house will continually build up, as if you're filling up a glass or filling up a bottle with liquid, and the level of these vapors will continue to rise. The vapors will remain


relatively stable in the house, unless there's a window or door open, and the vapors will be stirred around and moved around from place to place by air currents. Essentially, though, in a confined space, the vapors will remain at lower levels, and because gasoline is continually vaporizing, these level of vapors will rise.

Q    And based upon your observations of the house, what conclusions did you reach as to whether -- as to the degree of airtightness of this particular building?

A    One of my observations, of course, was the status of the windows and doors in the house, and that was one of the questions that I could have answered for me in Mr. Rich's briefing. And it was discovered by firefighters, I believe, upon their arrival, that all the doors and windows were closed in this house. I noticed that the windows were of a design which is consistent with modern construction, as well - as the doors, and I believe that the house would have been relatively airtight. Airtight is a -- it's probably an overstatement, because no window or door is totally airtight, but much more secure than older construction, and capable of shielding the average house or contemporary house from heat and cold and the air circulation from the outside.

Q    Now, sir, I believe you've prepared a demonstration for the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to demonstrate the characteristics of gasoline and what happens in a particular


situation; is that correct?

A    Yes.

MR. PANOSH: Your Honor, we'd ask the Court's permission to do the demonstration.

THE COURT: You may do the demonstration.

THE WITNESS: May I come down?

THE COURT: Yes, sir.

Q    And would you please narrate the demonstration as you go along.

(The witness approached the demonstration setup.) A    In order to -- Excuse me.

(The witness moved to the other side of the demonstration setup.)

A    In order to prevent anyone from being unnerved or frightened by the demonstration, what I intend to do is, to demonstrate the flammable properties of gasoline. And we're going to be dealing with a very small explosion, if you will. And all of this is going to be confined inside this metal box. The box lid is probably not going to blow off, and it's not -- it may cause some smoke to occur, but not enough smoke to activate the smoke alarms.

What I will do is, place a small quantity of gasoline inside this box. And then, there's a little trap door on the front of the box, which I will open. The gasoline vapors that will be given off by the gasoline in the box


will then flow out of this little trap door and flow down the ramp, giving an indication of the fact that gasoline vapors are heavier than air.

The gasoline vapors will travel down this ramp. And I have a little candle at the bottom of the ramp, which will ignite the gasoline vapors. You'll then see the -- a flame which will appear at the candle, and the flame then will travel back up the ramp and into the box, where the gasoline vapors that are inside the box will ignite. There'll be a rushing noise. There's not going to be a big bang. But you'll see flames shoot out the front of the little trap door and maybe some at the top.

In any event, the whole idea behind my opinion is the fact that in this house, there was not enough air to support combustion after the gasoline that was there completely depleted or deprived the atmosphere of enough oxygen to support combustion.

Our breathing air contains approximately 21 percent oxygen. It requires an atmosphere of 16 percent or greater of oxygen in the atmosphere to support combustion. So in this house, once the level of oxygen dropped only five percent, this fire would stop burning in an open-burning state and be reduced to a smoldering state. Any fuel, when it's mixed with the proper amount of oxygen, will burn and usually burn completely. And I can demonstrate that by


using a piece of toilet paper and just burning it here. (The witness conducted a demonstration.)

A    And you can see that it'll burn completely away to nothing. Just a tiny bit of ash.

But if you take this same toilet paper and put it inside this container. I'll use about five sheets, I believe.

(The witness conducted a demonstration.)

A    Well, I can see by the candle flame that there's a considerable draft. Vapors, although heavier than air, can be disturbed by the heating and air conditioning system in a room. So if this demonstration happens to fail because of the vapors being stirred away from the ramp, I can still ignite the vapors at any point on the ramp and give you the same demonstration.

I'll apply a small quantity of gasoline that amounts to about two ounces to the inside of the container.

(The witness conducted a demonstration.)

A    Open the trap door.

(The witness continued conducting the demonstration.)

A    And even though we have a large amount of smoke, the toilet paper that's inside here is still pretty much intact. The edges of it are burned a bit, but essentially undamaged, because there's just not enough air in here to continue to allow the flame to burn and consume all the fuel.


It may repeat itself. I'm not sure.

(Time was allowed.)

(The witness conducted a demonstration.)

A    And even after a second burn, there's still plenty of toilet paper left. Some it doesn't -- hasn't been burned at all. There's plenty of gasoline here, though.

That's the demonstration.

Q    Have a seat.

(The witness returned to the witness stand.)

MR. PANOSH: May I approach?

THE COURT: Yes, sir.

Q    Agent Webster, I'm going to hand you several photographs.

MR. PANOSH: We would ask the Court's permission to have him step before the jury.

THE COURT: You may step before the jury.

(The witness approached the jury box.)

Q    Drawing your attention to State's Exhibits 50 and 51, do you see the pour pattern that you've referred to in those photographs?

A    Yes, I do.

Q    And would you show that to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, and make reference to the sticker number, please.

A    I'll show State's Exhibit Number 50, which is a photograph of the kitchen area, taken from a doorway that


separates the kitchen from the garage. On the floor here, there's quite a bit of discoloration. The blackness that is seen on the floor -- the blackness that's seen on the floor there is -- are soot deposits and fire damage caused by a liquid laying on the floor, specifically in this case, gasoline laying on the floor and burning.

(The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)

A    The floor's damaged.

(The witness held up an exhibit.)

A    The other photograph, State's Exhibit Number 51, is a picture with considerable -- considerably greater amount of the light shown on the -- in the same area. The picture's taken from approximately the same location and again shows the floor of the kitchen. And where my index finger is now, this -- the discoloration on the floor here is what I call a fire pattern. It is the discoloration caused by the burning of gasoline on the floor. The darker discoloration on the kitchen floor here that I'm pointing to is a discoloration that's caused by gasoline burning on the floor.

Q    Now, drawing your attention to these two areas, first of all, these chairs, and secondly, this wooden cabinetry that was immediately in the area of the pour pattern, what, if any, damage did you observe on those wooden objects?

A    This is of particular note, in that the fact that -­because of the fact that there was gasoline burning on the


floor here that caused the discoloration on the floor, and yet there is only some slight damage because of soot deposits, a soot discoloration on the -- on the chair legs in the same area where the gasoline's burning.

(The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)

A    There's some discoloration on the chair legs from the soot, caused by the burning gasoline, but there's no charring or there's no real -- there's no burning there. And the cabinet, the kitchen cabinet that is on the other side of the photograph, is not even discolored.

Q    And this would have been an area where you've described the burning to be intense?

A    It's one of the -- one of the areas where the -- at least in the initial stages of the fire, when there was enough air there, the type of burning would have been intense.

Q    But of what duration?

A    Well, extremely short duration.

Q    And would that support the fact that there is little or no damage to those wooden objects?

A    Yes, it does.

Q    Showing you again State's Exhibits 53 and 54, and drawing particular attention to 53, do you see a pour pattern on the couch?

A    Yes, I do. State's Exhibit Number 53 is a photograph


that was taken in the living room of this house. If I may point out that in this photograph, the carpeting that is directly in front of the -- of the couch here has been pulled or peeled back. On the couch, though, there is a discoloration, a blackness, which is -- which is actually a burned area that I'm pointing to now, that is a fire pattern that was created by the burning of gasoline on the couch. (The witness moved to the other end of the jury box and indicated.)

A    This -‑

Q    Drawing -- Go ahead.

A    I'm sorry. May I continue?

(Mr. Panosh nodded his head up and down.)

A    This pattern from the top of the couch to the bottom of the couch continues over onto the carpeting. And in this -­in this photograph, there is a -- in the photograph, it looks pink. There's a plastic cone with a Number 1 on the cone that is placed on the floor and immediately in front of the couch. I think that's an indicator of the -- of an item of physical evidence that was collected there.

In this area, and on the back of the carpet that's been peeled back, again, fire patterns are visible that were caused by the burning of gasoline, both on the couch and the carpet.

(The witness moved to the other end of the jury box.)


Q    Drawing your attention to this portion of the couch right here, in the vicinity of the pour pattern and to the right of the pour pattern, what, if any, damage did you observe on that area? (Indicated.)

A    The area that's been pointed out is this area that I'm -- that I'm showing with my index finger now, the edge or the extreme right-hand portion of the couch in the photograph that is unburned. It doesn't even -- it doesn't appear in the photograph to be discolored by soot or any type of heat damage or fire damage at all.

Q    And based upon your observations of that couch, what type of material was that? Was it cloth?

A    The sofa was, I believe, a nylon upholstery with a foam padding. (Held up an exhibit.)

Q    And could you explain to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury why there'd be significant damage in the area of the pour pattern, but no or very little damage in the area immediately next to it.

A    Again, in this -- in this house, the gasoline burned furious, probably as gasoline normally would in normal circumstances, until the fire burned out all the air. And in this particular case, the fire did not burn long enough for there to be any significant damage in any area, except where the gasoline was. If there had been an unlimited supply of oxygen, the heat from the burning gasoline would


ignite other materials in the immediate vicinity, again, provided there's enough air there. In this particular case, the gasoline and the area which the gasoline was in immediate contact with suffered all the damage, and the area outside of where the gasoline was suffered little or no damage.

Q    Did you examine this carpeting?

A    Only visually.

Q    Okay. You can resume your seat. Thank you, sir. (The witness returned to the witness stand.)

Q    Now, in the course of your experience and training in investigating arsons, have you investigated similar type crime scenes?

A    Yes, I have.

Q    And specifically, have you investigated crime scenes where a large amount of gasoline was used and causing a hole into the floor?

A    Yes, I have.

Q    And based upon the examination of the witnesses in those particular crimes, have you been able to determine how long they were in the smoldering state, before they burst into full combustion?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection.

THE COURT: Overruled.

MR. HATFIELD: Your Honor, I don't think he should


be able to base an opinion on the witnesses who are not before the Court. Apparently the question is, based on the examination of other witnesses and other fires, what does he know. That has nothing to do with this case.

THE COURT: Overruled.

A    It's been my experience in three other fires prior to this one, and one fire after this one, that fairly significant quantities, that is, a gallon or more of gasoline, was introduced into a house, poured on the floor, all the doors and windows were closed, and the gasoline was ignited. The gasoline in these -- in these two fires prior to this fire burned holes in the floor, one of them as -­one of them four feet in diameter. The house was severely damaged by smoke and some heat, but the burning was confined to the hole in the floor and the area immediately surrounding that.

In one fire in Roxboro, North Carolina --

MR. HATFIELD: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Based upon your experience in investigating those particular arsons, did they assist you in developing your time frame in this particular case?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection.

THE COURT: Overruled.

A    The two fires that I investigated prior to this one --


MR. HATFIELD: Objection. The only conceivable answer would be "Yes" or "No."

THE COURT: Overruled.


A    The fires that I investigated prior to this one did assist me or support me in formulating my opinion as to -‑

MR. HATFIELD: And those are irrelevant, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled.


Q    And in reference to the one in -- as you've described as it being in Roxboro that supported your opinion, how long did that fire go on?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection. The Court's already ruled on the Roxboro.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Based upon your findings and conclusions in this particular case, is there anything that you found in your examination of this arson that would -- Well, let me strike that, please. Give the ladies and gentlemen of the jury your best opinion as to the duration of the burn in this particular case, based upon your training and experience, from the time it was ignited, until the time that the fire officials put it out.

A    I am not able to give an estimate of the amount of


time, the precise amount of time, give or take any number of hours, about the length of time that this fire burned, from the time that it was first ignited, to the time that the fire department arrived and extinguished the fire. It's my opinion that this fire did indeed burn longer than two hours.

MR. HATFIELD: Objection and move to strike. He says he cannot form any opinion, then he gives the exact opinion Mr. Panosh wants.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Could you put outside parameters on the length of the burn of this particular fire?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection.

THE COURT: Overruled.

A    No, sir.

Q    Anything in your findings that would be inconsistent with this fire burning for a period of time of four hours?

MR. HATFIELD: Objection.

THE COURT: Overruled.

A    I believe this fire could have burned for four hours or more.

MR. PANOSH: No further questions. Thank you, sir.

(Mr. Hatfield approached a sheet of paper posted beside the diagram and wrote on the sheet of paper.)



Q    Mr. Webster, do you see the three words that I wrote on the board up there?

A    Yes.

Q    Do you know what those three words signify?

A    Are you referring -- May I ask a question?

Q    Do you know what those words mean, in the context of your specialty as an arson investigator?

A    Yes.

Q    What do they mean?

A    Well, they're the primary ingredients or the primary requirements, the presence of which are required in order to support combustion.

Q    And every second- or third- or fourth-grade student in this country, as well as every highly-trained expert in the field such as yours, knows those three elements, don't they?

A    In some form, yes, probably.

Q    No fire can exist without the presence of those three elements?

A    That's correct.

Q    Now, gasoline is a petroleum distillate, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    And by a petroleum distillate, we mean a distilled form of oil, don't we?

A    Yes.


Q    Just as distilled water is a distilled form of natural water, having some particles and elements removed from it; is that right?

A    Yes.

Q    So distilled water is a purer form of natural water, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q                And gasoline is a purer form of the natural petroleum that is found in the earth or under the sea, isn't it? A    It's not a purified form of crude oil, no. It is a -­it's a compound that is resulted from the distillation of crude oil, but not -- it doesn't pure -- doesn't make crude oil any purer.

Q    But it's a refined form of crude oil, isn't it?

A    Crude oil goes through what is called a refining process, to arrive at gasoline, among other things, yes.

Q    Now, are you familiar with how gasoline reacts to various materials, such as cotton or wool or polyester?

A    I'm not sure I understand your term "react."

Q    Well, a material such as cotton or wool will readily absorb gasoline, won't they?

A    That's correct.

Q    Just as your toilet paper readily absorbed gasoline?

A    Yes.

Q    Polyester fibers may be less absorbent of gasoline;


isn't that right?

A    Depending upon the form involved, yes.

Q    The polyester fibers that the upholstery on the couch in question were made of would be less likely to absorb gasoline than cotton or wool, wouldn't they?

A    No.

Q    They would be equally so?

A    Several different factors would cause the absorbency to vary.

Q    Now, would linoleum or vinyl flooring be more or less likely to absorb petroleum than some kind of woven floor covering?

A    I would think less likely.

Q    Now, certainly the first word up there, "fuel," is the same as gasoline, isn't it?

A    Well, in this -- in this case, in this -- in this setting, gasoline is a fuel, yes.

Q    But gasoline itself is not the component that burns, when we say that there was a fire of gasoline, is it?

A    It is the vapors, it is gasoline which is converted to a vapor or gaseous state, yes.

Q    Now, you have three little, enclosed containers on the desk there next to your demonstration, don't you?

A    Yes.

Q    And at least one of those and maybe all of them contain


gasoline, don't they?

A    That's correct.

Q    And the lids are firmly screwed on?

A    Yes.

Q    So that the process of vaporization of the gasoline contained within those cans has stopped, or at least all but a very minute amount has stopped, hasn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    So that if you left those cans that way for 10 years, they might literally be dry by that time?

A    Depending upon the condition of the container, yes.

Q    And how tightly the lid actually sealed the container?

A    Yes.

Q    But if we came back here four weeks from now in this trial, they probably would contain just about as much liquid as they do today?

A    Probably so.

Q    Now, when gasoline is not contained, that is, when it's in the open atmosphere, then the process of vaporization or evaporation begins, unless the temperature is below 45 degrees below Fahrenheit; isn't that right?

A    Yes.

Q    So when you pour gasoline out on a surface from a container, it immediately begins to vaporize, doesn't it?

A    Yes.


Q    But it will vaporize at a different rate, if you pour it out on some nonporous floor substance, such as polished cement or vinyl, than if you pour it out on just a thin but very tightly-woven carpet?

A    No.

Q    It will -- then what's your answer?

A    Gasoline will not vaporize at a different rate if it's poured out on linoleum, versus poured out on a carpet.

Q    All right.

A    It will vaporize at the same rate. The vaporization will be affected by factors such as temperature, barometric pressure and -- well, those are the two primary factors that affect vaporization.

Q    So the arsonist who went into Patricia's house and poured gasoline around, it would not have made any difference whether that arsonist poured the vapors over a carpet in the living room that might be similar to this, or a nonporous substance, such as a floor in a kitchen, in your opinion, am I right?

A    I'm not sure I understand your question.

Q    Well, part of the house had carpet and part of the house had vinyl flooring and part of the house had wooden flooring, didn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    And the pattern that's behind you on the drawing in


red, the pour pattern, covered all of those three substances and maybe even more substances; isn't that right?

A    Yes.

Q    But your statement of a moment ago is that, regardless of which of those substances the fuel was poured on, that it would evaporate at approximately the same rate?

A    I would expect it to, yes.

Q    All right. Now, as it evaporates, of course, you stated that the vapor would be heavier than air?

A    Yes.

Q    Whereas in actuality, gasoline itself is lighter than water?

A    Yes.

Q    And the vapor -- would the rate of evaporation depend upon the ambient temperature in the room?

A    It can be one of the factors, yes.

Q    So that as the temperature approached 45 degrees below zero, the rate would be very slow, whereas as it approached the temperature of the ignition of gasoline, the rate of evaporation would be very rapid?

A    I would expect that to be true, yes.

Q    But here we're dealing with something in the middle range?

A    Yes.

Q    Now, you said you examined the outside of the house and


looked at all the openings in the house, and by that I mean, the windows and the doors?

A    Yes.

Q    And you only found one window knocked out?

A    I didn't state that, but I believe that's -- I believe that's my recollection.

Q    And that -- it appeared that that window had been probably knocked out by a firefighter, rather than by the arsonist, due to the traces of smoke around it on the outside?

A    I don't remember.

Q    Well, then, if you don't remember, you don't know whether that window was knocked out before the arsonist did his work, do you?

A    I certainly -- it's my opinion that it certainly was not done at that time.

Q    But your opinion's not based on any fact, because you don't know?

A    My opinion is based on my observations.

Q    If the window was knocked out before the arsonist did his work, then there would have been a ready source of oxygen within the house; isn't that right?

A    Yes.

Q    So, having that window secured before he went to work, it helps your theory --


A    That's correct.

Q    -- doesn't it? But you don't have any facts to support that part of it?

A    Other than what firefighters -- or -- other than what firefighters told Inspector Rich and what Inspector Rich told me.

Q    So to that extent, your opinion rests upon your observations, plus what you've heard from Rich and Harris and others?

A    That's correct.

Q    Did you hear the condition of the back door that leads from the carport into the kitchen area, what was that condition?

A    That -- I believe that -- I believe I recall -- or I recall that that door was closed.

Q    It was closed when the firefighter arrived?

A    I believe so. And there was a curtain -- or the curtain that was on the door was trapped between -- well, trapped by the door. There was a portion of the curtain that was trapped by the door as it was closed.

Q    In other words, the curtain was hung on the inside of the door?

A    That's correct. The inside of the door -- well, the door had windows, and there was some type of a curtain hung on the back of the door.


Q    And it was a loose probably translucent fabric?

A    Yes. As I recall, I think a term was sheer or a very -- a very light weave cloth, yes.

Q    But part of the curtain was outside the door?

A    It's my recollection that the lower portion of the -­of the curtain towards the bottom and towards the door facing or the outside portion of the door away from the hinges was trapped -‑

Q    Now -‑

A    -- by the door.

Q    -- based on your expertise -- and it certainly is impressive in your resume -- what would have caused that sheer curtain to be outside the door?

A    Well, there are any number of things that could have caused that.

Q    Would you tell the jury what those things are.

A    Curtain could have been caught by anyone closing the door at some -- at some great speed, I suppose. It could have been trapped by the door. Essentially, it could have been trapped by the door as the -- because of the force of the ignition of the gasoline closing the door with some speed. I suppose that's where you're -- that's what you're asking.

Q    Well, thank you. That is what I'm asking. The one valid theory for why some of the curtain was outside the


door is, because the force of the glass with the ignition of the gasoline vapors would have both forced the door closed and blown the curtain toward the outside of the house before the door firmly closed?

A    Well, I wouldn't call it a blast, but the force of the initial ignition of the gasoline vapors.

Q    Well, certainly, sir -- I don't want to argue with you, but I don't know why you wouldn't call it a blast, when you just demonstrated a blast in your box here, with a very, very small quantity of gasoline, you showed exactly what happens when a small quantity of gasoline vapors liquefied and a blast ensues.

A    Well, I'm sorry, sir, but as an investigator, I define a blast in a considerably different way.

Q    What would you call the rapid combustion that you showed the jury in the box?

A    Exactly that, a rapid combustion, not an explosion or blast.

Q    You have studied post-blast investigation, though, haven't you?

A    Yes, I have.

Q    Back in March of '98 -‑

A    And since then.

Q    -- not too long ago?

A    And prior --


Q    Now --

A    -- to that. I'm sorry.

Q    What we saw in the box there -- And by the way, what are the dimensions of that box, approximately?

A    It's approximately a six-inch cube.

Q    So that would make it a half of a cubic square -- a cubic foot or cubic -- yes, a cubic foot?

A    Yes, roughly.

Q    Do you know how many cubic feet the area of the kitchen and hall comprised?

A    No.

Q    You'd have to multiply its lateral dimensions plus its height -- with its height, in order to determine the cubic area, wouldn't you?

A    Yes.

Q    But needless to say, the cubic area of even a moderate size room like that kitchen is literally vast, compared to that little thing there, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    And yet, since you don't know how much fuel was poured out in the kitchen, it's entirely possible that the initial blast in the kitchen was just as furious -- or excuse me. I don't -- I'm sorry for using the word "blast" -- that the initial ignition was just as furious as the ignition you demonstrated to the jury, but on a much larger scale?


A    Could have been, yes.

Q    We just don't know, because you don't know how much fuel the arsonist had when he poured fuel around that house, do you?

A    There were only estimates, I think.

Q    Well, but no one knows who the arsonist was, do they?

MR. PANOSH: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    You don't know who the arsonist was, do you?

MR. PANOSH: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Did any of the firefighters identify the arsonist to you?

MR. PANOSH: Objection.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    You also do not know what quantity of fuel the arsonist employed in this fire, do you?

A    As I said, they're only estimates.

Q    But the estimates in the aftermath would have to be based in part on the duration of the fire, wouldn't they?

A    I don't think so.

Q    If you knew the duration of the fire, then you could more properly estimate the quantity of gasoline that was used to fuel the fire, couldn't you?

A    I don't believe so.


Q    Just as, if you knew the quantity of the fuel, you could estimate the duration; isn't that right?

A    If the gasoline was the only thing burning, there are some formulas that would give some idea about the duration of a -- of the gasoline burning in an open-burning state with an unlimited supply of oxygen. However, in this case, I don't believe that's possible.

Q    But that's exactly what you showed the jury when you walked around in front of them with the pictures, you showed in the kitchen area particularly places where the gasoline fuel burned but did no appreciable damage to the structure of the house; isn't that right?

A    Yes.

Q    So what you demonstrated to them was a fire that consisted of the fuel gasoline, which eventually went out?

A    Yes.

Q    And unless you know how much fuel was there, you can't estimate its duration?

A    As I said, the only way you can accurately calculate the duration of the burning of the fuel is if you have that fuel and that fuel alone burning.

Q    But in -- you showed the jury pictures that showed that the house itself did not contribute any fuel to the fire, you particularly showed them cabinets which were smutted and soiled with smoke, but which had not been consumed by the


fire. So none of the things you showed the jury in the picture fulfilled the first requirement of the fire, which is fuel?

A    Well, sir, my observation included the burning of about a six-foot diameter hole in the floor.

Q    Well, that was -- I thought you showed the jury pictures of the kitchen area.

A    That's correct, but I also testified that there were additional -- there were things in the house that burned in addition to the gasoline.

Q    Now, in the case of the six-foot hole with the double support joist through the middle, that was -- that you said was some two-by-twelve, but didn't you really mean that it was two two-by-tens nailed together or attached together?

A    Possibly.

Q    So you had a double beam running through the middle, and you also had several other two-by-ten floor joists running through that six-foot opening?

A    That's correct.

Q    And those joists were consumed entirely, weren't they?

A    I believe so, yes, sir.

Q    Up to the perimeter of the hole?

A    Yes.

Q    And of course, the subfloor, which would probably consisted either of heavy gauge plywood or sheets of rough


wood about an inch thick and five or six inches wide, wouldn't that be a subfloor, typical subfloor?

A    Five-eighths of an inch thick and four-by-eight sheets, four foot by eight foot sheets, yes.

Q    Fairly rough material, just to add structural rigidity to the floor?

A    Yes, sir.

Q    Then there would be some finished material, hardwood or something like that on top?

A    Or padding and carpet -- or carpet padding and carpet, yes.

Q    Do you know what this floor consisted of?

A    The flooring at -- where the hole was; is that -- is that what you're referring to?

Q    Yes.

A    That was -- the flooring there was carpet, the carpet padding, and a subflooring, which consisted of the five-eighths of an inch subfloorboards, yes.

Q    Do you know whether the joists underneath were made of pine or oak?

A    They were pine.

Q    That would have burned much more rapidly than some other woods like oak, wouldn't it?

A    Not necessarily. There are several factors that would influence the burning rate, including moisture and age.


Q    Did you make an attempt to evaluate those factors of moisture and age, so that you could determine the duration of the fire?

A    No.

Q    Now, as for the carpet, what was it made out of?

A    I don't know.

Q    So, therefore, you cannot factor in its burn rate for the purposes of determining the duration?

A    No.

Q    And you also, as we said a minute ago, don't know whether that window that you found that was knocked out was knocked out by the arsonist or knocked out by a firefighter?

A    Only by what I was told and my observations of the inside of the house.

Q    But you did already say that you just don't know?

A    I think I said I didn't remember.

Q    Now, if the kitchen door that leads to the carport was open when the arsonist walked around the inside of the house, pouring gasoline out on the floor, and if the arsonist then devised a means of igniting the gasoline, and left, and the door remained open, then when the mode of ignition caused the fire, there would have been an instantaneous flare-up, similar to the one you demonstrated in the box in front of the jury, wouldn't there?

A    I would expect something like that, yes, sir.


Q    And that instantaneous flare-up could have very rapidly pushed the door of the carport into a closed position, leaving some of the curtain, since the curtain's lighter than the door, it would have been blown by the force outside the door, and that would have been exactly what the firefighters found, wouldn't it?

A    That's one possibility, yes.

Q    Now, if that's what happened, and if the door was open when the gasoline was poured around, then the banking effect that was described earlier in these proceedings by Mr. Rich could not have occurred, because as you said in your testimony, you won't have banking if there's an open door where the fuel can -- fuel vapor can go out; isn't that right?

A    That's correct.

Q    Now, if you took this interesting device that you brought to the court today and reversed it, that is, if you -- if the channel steel were -- had a little hinge on it, and you could put the box at the bottom and the candle at the top, it wouldn't make any difference how much gasoline vapor you put in that box, it would never ignite from the flame of that candle, would it?

A    In this environment, probably not.

Q    Right. Now, equally so, in this environment, if you poured out five gallons of gasoline on this floor, you --


this room is too big and there are too many openings in it for there to ever be any banking effect that would carry the fuel vapors up as high as the level of the top of that table; isn't that right?

A    With the heating and ventilation system in effect here, sir, I wouldn't want to take that chance.

Q    Well, we've -- none of us would want to be here if five gallons of gasoline were poured out on this floor. We wouldn't want to take the chance. But the fact is that from a scientific point of view, if five gallons of gasoline were poured out on this floor, and it wouldn't matter whether it was on a porous floor, like this carpet, or a more durable or less porous floor, because the evaporation rate would be the same, and it would begin to give off fuel -- fumes or vapors that are heavier than air, so those would spread out all over the floor, wouldn't they?

A    Yes.

Q    But they would not in any sense go higher than 18 inches, would they?

A Looking about the courtroom, I would expect the vapors from that quantity of gasoline to spread out over the floor and possibly build up to the height of a doorway, probably. And there are open doors at the back of the courtroom here. I would expect the vapors to be carried in that direction as they -- as they generated.


Q    They would never build up to a height in here of 18 inches, would they?

A    I don't know.

Q    Aren't you familiar with the fact that industrial and residential building codes require that the ignition systems on water heaters be located 18 inches above the floor?

A    No.

Q    You're not aware of that?

A I -- as far as ignition systems such as the -- as the pilot light on a gas water heater is concerned, I know the one in my house is certainly not 18 inches above the floor.

Q    If it's placed in an area where -- such as a carport, or if it's in a kitchen itself, isn't it a fact it has to be located 18 inches above the floor?

A    I'm not familiar with building codes, sir. I just know where mine is and it's not that far up.

Q    Now, if -- the average home where people have lawns and lawn mowers and things, usually the average homeowner of that type stores some gasoline around their house, don't they?

A    Yes.

Q    And there are specifications for the kinds of containers that such gasoline can be kept in safely; isn't that right?

A    Yes.


Q    But even so, it's possible for children or other individuals to make mistakes and to spill gasoline around the home, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    So there are precautionary requirements in the building code to prevent there being sources of ignition close to the floor level, because that's where those vapors would accumulate; isn't that right?

MR. PANOSH: Objection. He just said he doesn't know.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    But it is true that vapors will accumulate close to the floor level, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    Now, were you asked in the course of your expert evaluation of this fire scene to determine whether or not somehow this arsonist could have had a delayed ignition of the gasoline that he poured out, by somehow utilizing the electric stove?

A    I was not asked to determine that, but my -- but I did observe or -- was with other investigators when this was discovered, yes.

Q    What was discovered?

A    There was a small piece of cloth that was caught by the oven door. I believe that piece of cloth is in evidence.


In any event, there was a small piece of cloth that was caught by the oven door, and there were some ashes that were possibly remnants of that cloth or remains of that cloth that were up on top of the stove. And that caused me, once I observed that, that caused me to more carefully observe the controls -- the buttons on the stove, and one of the but-- one of the controls on the stove was found to be in an on position.

(Mr. Hatfield approached the exhibit table, and time was allowed for Mr. Hatfield.)

THE COURT: How much longer are you going to be with the witness, Mr. Hatfield?


THE COURT: How much longer are you going to examine the witness?

MR. HATFIELD: I hope just a couple -- well, it might be longer than that, because I've got to find some exhibits. It won't be long, but it might be 20 minutes.

THE COURT: Well, we're not going to wait that long for lunch.

You may step down, Mr. Webster.

(The witness left the witness stand.)

THE COURT: Members of the jury, we're going to take our lunch recess. You'll need to be back at 2:00 o'clock. Please report to the jury room. Please remember


the instructions or obligations on the jury responsibility sheet.

Have a nice lunch. I'll see you at 2:00.

Everyone remain seated while the jury leaves. (The jury left the courtroom at 12:37 p.m.)

THE COURT: You may declare a recess until 2:00 p.m., sheriff.

(A recess was taken at 12:37 p.m.)

(Court reconvened at 2:06 p.m. The defendant was present. The jury was not present.)

THE COURT: Let me see the lawyers up here just a moment.

(All three counsel conferred with the Court at the bench.)

THE COURT: Bring them back.

(The jury entered the courtroom at 2:07 p.m.)

THE COURT: Hope you had a nice lunch and are feeling okay. Anyone having any problems this afternoon that I should know about, if you'll raise your hand, I'll be glad to talk with you about it.

Okay. If the witness would return to the witness stand, please.

(The witness, Jerry D. Webster, returned to the witness stand.)

THE COURT: Mr. Webster, you're still under oath. You may continue with cross-examination, Mr.



MR. HATFIELD: All right. Thank you.


Q    Mr. Webster, I'm sorry I'm taking so long. I'll try to cover a couple of topics and wrap it up. Mr. Webster, do you know from your observations whether there was a heating and air conditioning system in the house?

A    Yes, there was.

Q    What did you observe?

A    To the best of my recollection, there was a heat pump installed in the house. The heating and air conditioning system would be a closed system, that is, the air that is moved about in the house is moved about by an air handler or a fan that just recirculates the air that's in the house. There's no -- there's no cold air or no air brought in from the outside to feed the heating and air conditioning system.-

Q    Do you know where the so-called air return was located in the house?

A    Yes.

Q    Where was that?

A    It was on a wall, pretty much at floor level, and it was in the hallway, just directly above the hole in the floor that was burned by the fire.

Q    Now, what is the purpose of an air return?

A    An air return is the -- essentially the air intake for


the heating and air conditioning system. It is -- in this particular case, as in most houses, it's a -- it's a hole in the wall that is attached by duct work to the heating and air conditioning system air handler.

Q    And had you finished? I didn't mean to interrupt you.

A    That's pretty much it.

Q    Which direction does the air flow in an air return?

A    Well, it flows from the outside of the return to the inside or towards the -- towards the air handler.

Q    So, whether the air handler is in its air conditioning mode or its heating mode, it always pumps air in the same direction; is that right?

A    That's correct.

Q    And would that direction be through the duct work to various rooms?

A    Yes.

Q    And then through the rooms themselves, either heating and (sic) cooling?

A    Yes.

Q    And then some of that air would go into the air return

A    Yes.

Q    -- and go back through the same cycle; is that correct?

A    Yes.

Q    Now, you stated that you looked at the windows, and


other than the broken window, which has already been talked about, the other windows were of reasonable and modern quality; is that true?

A    Yes.

Q    That means that they were relatively airtight, compared to windows of 100 years ago?

A    Yes.

Q    Probably some sort of system of plastic runners on the sides, to keep them stable and tight, or do you know?

A    That's modern construction. I didn't pay that much attention to the windows that were in this house. That's what -‑

Q    But even a well-built house with all the windows and doors closed has plenty of air in it, doesn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    And people live all the time in houses that have every single window and door closed most of the time, don't they?

A    Yes.

Q    And they manage to breathe?

A    Yes.

Q    And some people smoke and their cigarettes stay lit?

A    Yes.

Q    And fires in the fireplace burn and so forth; isn't


Q    Cooking can be done, all of that stuff?

A    Yes.

Q    So a house is very far from airtight, even under ideal conditions, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    And in this case, based on your evaluation of the house after the fire and after all the destruction that the fire entailed, it still appeared to you to be a relatively secure house?

A    Yes.

Q    Now, do you know whether the air handler was running at the time that the fire took place?

A    No, I don't.

Q    Did you take time to examine the air return, in order to determine whether it had become charred inside or whether smoke and the like had emitted from the fire into the air return?

A    No, I didn't. I -‑

Q    Now -- Okay. Excuse me.

A    Excuse me. If I may explain.

Q    Yes, sir.

A    I did examine the grill, the outside of the cold air return, or the air return. And I also examined a number of the heating vents or heating and air conditioning vents in the house. They were not discolored. They didn't show any


soot deposits or give me any reason to investigate the system further.

Q    So you talked to no firefighters or others that were on the scene before you, who indicated to you that the system was running when the first emergency personnel arrived -‑

A    No -‑

Q    -- at that location?

A    -- I didn't.

Q    Now, an air return -- the air circulation system that you're describing is by no means airtight, is it?

A    I'm really not qualified to answer that question.

Q    Well, it consists of duct work in the overhead part of the house and probably in the crawl space, doesn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    And most of that duct work is customarily sealed with this duct tape that everybody's familiar with, strong canvas sticky tape?

A    Yes.

Q    But after a while, some of that tape pulls away from the joints and the joints leak, don't they?

A    I suppose so, after a while, yes.

Q    So the air return would have provided an ideal source of possible oxygen for the fire, wouldn't it?

A    I don't believe so, sir.

Q    Well, you don't know whether it was running, you don't


know whether the system was running while the fire was burning?

A    That's right.

Q    Certainly if the system was running while the fire was burning, it would have been an ideal source of air, wouldn't it?

A    No, sir. It's -- as I said, it's a closed system. It's merely recirculating the air that's available in the house. It's not bringing in any fresh air.

Q    But it's a closed system with a high degree of potential for leaks, isn't it?

A    I don't think so, sir, but I'm really not qualified to answer that.

Q    And part of the system runs under the house, where there's much more air available, due to the open vents around the foundation?

A    That's correct.

Q    Now, when you spoke before lunch about the floor and the location where the six-foot hole was, you've already talked about the joists. Tell us again what the composition of the floor itself was.

A    It's my recollection that the floor was carpet with carpet padding and then a subfloor consisting of -­consisting of, I believe, five-eighth inch thick boards that would be four feet by eight feet in their original size, cut


to the configuration of the -- of the house or the components to which it's attached.

Q    So underneath Patricia's body was five-eighths of plywood, some carpet pad and some composition carpet?

A    I don't know what was underneath her body, sir.

Q    Well, would there -- when you inspected the floor, did you see any other components of the floor, from those that I have just mentioned?

A    No.

Q    Now, assuming that she -- that the fire was started with the intention of destroying her body, then the arsonist would have poured gasoline down upon her body, wouldn't he?

A    I'm really not willing to make that assumption at this point, sir.

Q    Well, you do believe that the source of this -- the primary fuel for this fire was gasoline?

A    Yes.

Q    And you saw pour marks, indicating that the gasoline was poured everywhere that it was located, didn't you?

A    Yes.

Q    Well, then, don't you know it was poured on her body?

A    Yes.

Q    And don't you know that it saturated her clothes?

A    I believe so, yes.

Q    And don't you know that it saturated the carpet and the


carpet pad where she lay?

A    I do know that, yes.

Q    And of course, underneath the carpet and the carpet pad and her body was five-eighths of plywood, wasn't it? A    I don't recall that it was plywood, but it was some type of wood, yes.

Q    And the plywood consists of a lamination of crude pieces of wood with glue in between?

A    Yes.

Q    And the glue also qualifies as a fuel, doesn't it?

A    No.

Q    Glue burns, doesn't it?

A    No, sir. It is the carriers, the vehicles that suspend the glue in solution that burn.

Q    All right. Once those have evaporated, do they evaporate in their entirety, or is there some flammability to the plywood?

A    Well, there's combustibility to the plywood, but as far as the glue or the vehicles that carry the glue, they're pretty much gone.

Q    All right. Now, what about the composition of the carpet? Did you analyze it for combustibility?

A    No.

Q    Then you don't know whether it was a high combustion carpet or a fire retardant carpet, do you?


A    No.

Q    Well, when a liquid such as gasoline is poured upon a carpet, you stated earlier that the evaporation rate would be the same, whether it was a nonporous floor, such as vinyl or linoleum, or whether it was carpet; didn't you say that earlier?

A    It would be essentially the same, yes.

Q    But the fact is that the surface of the carpet is infinitely more complex than a flat surface, isn't it?

A    That's correct.

Q    And all the surfaces of those threads and the knots and the gaps in between could hold fuel, couldn't they?

A    Yes.

Q    And they would expose more fuel to the atmosphere, wouldn't they?

A    I don't know.

Q    And the creation of the flammable gas, as Mr. Rich called it, is a process of evaporation, isn't it?

A    Yes.

Q    So the more surfaces you have, the greater evaporation potential you have, don't you?

A    In -- generally speaking, yes.

Q    So the fact is that a porous carpet would both trap more liquid gasoline and expose more gasoline to the evaporation process than a nonporous, flat floor, wouldn't



A    I think it would probably trap more gasoline, but I'm not sure that it would expose more gasoline to the -- to vaporization.

Q    Now, if the arsonist's goal primarily was to destroy the body of Patricia, so that no one would know she had been murdered, then he would have poured a good deal of gasoline on the location where the body was, wouldn't he?

A    I'm not willing -- I'm not ready to make that assumption, sir. I don't know what the arsonist's state of mind or intentions were.

Q    In any event, in your experience over these numerous years that you've talked about in your resume, that's what you've studied all along, isn't it?

A    One of the many things, yes. Most --

Q    So the arsonist, if his goal was to destroy the body, he would have poured more fuel there, wouldn't he?

MR. PANOSH: Objection. Asked and answered.

THE COURT: Sustained.

Q    Well, in any event, that's where the most intense fire burned, wasn't it?

A    Given the lack of oxygen that the -- that condition resulting from the burning of the gasoline that was in the house, that is where the most intense fire did occur, yes.

Q    Well, I don't know how you can talk about an intense


fire when you talk about lack of oxygen, because as you know from the formula on the board, you have to have both oxygen and fuel. If you don't have one or you don't have the other, you have no fire.

MR. PANOSH: Objection to arguing with the witness.

MR. HATFIELD: It's not arguing. It's stating a point.

THE COURT: Move along.

Q    Right?

THE COURT: Move along. We've been over it.

A    The fire at the -- in the hole -- that was at the hole in the floor did eventually receive a resupply of oxygen and thus burned more intensely.

Q    But you don't know whether it was getting a supply of oxygen all along through the air return, also, do you?

A    The air return does not provide additional oxygen to that environment, sir.

Q    Well, it would if it was a leaky system, wouldn't it? MR. PANOSH: We object. We've been over it.

THE COURT: Sustained.

MR. HATFIELD: Your Honor, I don't ever object to the prosecutor's questions.

THE COURT: Well, move along. We've been over it. He's answered that question.


MR. HATFIELD: I have no further questions.

THE COURT: All right.

Step down, sir.

MR. PANOSH: Thank you, sir.

(The witness left the witness stand.)



Published August 15, 2006.  Report broken links or other problems.

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