The first day of a jury trial in a Lynchburg arson case came to a close Monday afternoon with two more witnesses slated to testify on Tuesday — but only after the defendant was held in contempt for being late and chided by the judge for apparently falling asleep during proceedings.
As previously reported, Terry Yankie, 64, Lynchburg, was indicted by a Highland County Grand Jury in August on one count of aggravated arson, a second-degree felony, and one count of arson, a fourth-degree felony, after he allegedly set fire to the home where he was living on Short Road near Lynchburg in 2016.
Proceedings on Monday were delayed, since Yankie appeared about an hour late for his trial.
Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss held Yankie in contempt and fined him $100, demanding that it be paid immediately.
Later, Coss also reprimanded him for sleeping during proceedings.
Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins said on Monday in her opening remarks to the jury that Yankie dumped gasoline in the center of his kitchen, then poured a trail of fuel outside the house and into the yard and set it on fire.
An insurance claim filed shortly afterward by Yankie, who paid the insurance on the home, and his mother, who owned the home, is still pending, according to Collins.
Collins said Yankie told officials during the investigation that he had been siphoning gasoline from a five-gallon can into a one-gallon receptacle in the kitchen, and claimed that a “green flame” jumped across the room from a nearby kerosene heater and ignited gasoline that had spilled on the ground.
Collins said Yankie then drove into Lynchburg to a business he owns, and called 911 to report the fire. When fire crews arrived at the house, Yankie was splitting wood nearby, Collins said.
Cincinnati defense attorney Robert Croswell III, who represents Yankie, argued in his opening remarks that Yankie’s version of the events was true, and that some of the tests performed on residue from the home were not thorough, had “no bearing on the facts of the case,” and others added up to nothing more than “voodoo science.”
Much of the testimony on Monday came from Karen Corwin, an assistant fire marshal with the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office, who said residue and burn patterns in and around the home indicated the fire had been started from outside the structure.
Corwin also said if Yankie had actually been in the kitchen when the gas ignited, he would have been injured or at least partially covered in soot.
At one point during cross examination, in reference to one of Corwin’s photos of her investigation of the scene, Croswell asked if Corwin had cleared certain debris from the kitchen in the correct way to clearly read burn patterns. She said she had not.
Croswell also disputed Corwin’s investigation report, since she never updated it after initially indicating the cause of the fire was undetermined.
Also Monday, the jury heard from Christa Rajendram and Mollie Jordan, both experts in forensics who investigated the case; Lynchburg Area Joint Fire and Ambulance District Chief Jeff Turner, who was one of the first responders at the fire; George Carrel, an insurance adjuster for Ohio Mutual Insurance Group; Scott Fackler, an insurance investigator; and Michael Jacobs, an attorney who represents the insurance company.
Jacobs, who interviewed Yankie during the insurance claims process, said Yankie was behind on his taxes and owed money to the IRS.
Jacobs said if Yankie wins the insurance claim, he will collect the money since he paid the insurance on the property.
Two more fire investigators were slated to testify on Tuesday, one for the state and one for the defense.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.
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