HAMILTON, Ohio - After seven days of testimony, including both defendants, jury deliberations got under way about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the trial of two men charged in the 2015 death of Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman.
Jurors met for about an hour before the judge sent them home. They will resume Wednesday morning.
Lester Parker, 67, and his nephew, William Tucker, 50, of Richmond, Kentucky, are charged with arson and murder in the fire at Parker’s Pater Avenue home that killed Wolterman on Dec. 28, 2015. Prosecutors claimed Parker was strapped financially and hired Tucker to set the fire so Parker could get insurance money.
Both men denied any involvement in the deadly fire when they testified Monday in their own defense.
Parker testified he moved items from his house to his garage to make room for a family gathering, not to spare them from the fire as the prosecution claimed.
Tucker admitted to being in Hamilton during the early morning hours when the fire occurred, but said he came to get pain pills from one of Parker’s daughters and then “peddle” them in Hamilton to make cash. He also admitted to lying to police when they first questioned him about his whereabouts that day by saying he was in Richmond.
Both men said witnesses, including relatives, lied during testimony.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Assistant Butler County Prosecutor David Kash told the jury they could make inferences from text messages and testimony to conclude Parker and Tucker are guilty of murder and arson.
He meticulously went over social media messages, phone records and even a Hamilton police license plate reader that caught the image of the car that a Hamilton woman used to drive Tucker to the city on the morning of the fire.
“Clearly this is a case of circumstantial evidence,” Kash said, telling the jury to “take facts you know and make reasonable inference.”
Kash told the jury that the state is not arguing Parker and Tucker purposely killed Wolterman, but rather conspired to commit arson that resulted in Wolterman’s death.
“If someone acts in partnership with the person who actually committed the crime, he is just as guilty,” Kash said.
Parker and his wife were in Las Vegas celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary at the time of the fire.
Kash said a phone call placed to Parker from Richmond on Dec. 20 marked when the arson fire was planned. He also pointed to a text message Tucker sent to a girlfriend at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2015, saying, “done with the job.”
“The data starts to tighten the noose,” Kash told the jury.
Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser pointed to what he called a “silver bullet” during final closing arguments — a call placed from a phone registered to Tucker’s Kentucky girlfriend to Parker’s house on Dec. 27, 2015.
Parker previously testified he had not talked to Tucker in more than one year before the fire.
“That is the call from Tucker checking in to find out if the deal is still on,” Gmoser said.
“Is that solid evidence of arson and murder?” Parker’s defense attorney, David Washington, asked the jury, adding it is not their job to connect the dots for the prosecution.
Prosecutor: Facebook extends the long arm of the law
In his final closing argument, Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the jury that before the advent of Facebook police and prosecutors had a much harder time retracing the steps of a suspect or defendant.
But Gmoser said Facebook messages put Tucker in Hamilton on the night of the fire, not in Richmond, Kentucky, as Tucker first told police.
"Suddenly the history of mankind is repeatable on Facebook, so when somebody says, 'I was in Richmond, that's where I was. I was watching football,' we have the Facebook entries and track it all the way back to Hamilton (and) the alibi goes up in smoke,” Gmoser said.
Washington said there was no evidence presented about what was said in the phone conversation on Dec. 20 or who was talking.
Washington reiterated to the jury what he told them in opening statements — that the witnesses would be “pill heads and dope fiends.”
Washington pointed to Parker’s daughter Melissa Lainhart-Jones, who admitted to stealing drugs from her father and has been living for weeks in a hotel room paid for by the prosecution.
The defense attorney noted the firefighters in attendance and called Wolterman a hero, but he said there is no evidence that Parker conspired to set the fire.
“You look out there and see those faces and those uniforms and you want to do something,” Washington said, noting this trial is not about vengeance.
The courtroom has been packed each day with firefighters in dress uniform.
But Washington urged the jury not to be swayed and to look for the evidence.
“Some of the hardest things to do are the right things to do,” Washington said. “Where is the evidence?”
Tucker’s defense attorney, Tamara Sack, also told the jury her client is not guilty, pointing to conflicting statements from witnesses who drove Tucker to Hamilton. She said firefighters also gave conflicting testimony about the status of the cellar door at the Pater Avenue house after the fire.
While both women in the car had different versions of where Tucker went when they drove from Kentucky to Hamilton, both said he did not smell of gas when he got back in the vehicle.
“How do you light a fire in a closed environment and not show it on your person?” Sack asked the jury.
Sack also pointed to Google map coordinates that show the car Tucker came to Hamilton and was parked on Grand Avenue for only 11 minutes. She questioned if it was time enough for him to walk to Pater Avenue, break into the house and light the blaze.
The defense attorney also called into the question the motivation for Tucker to commit the crime.
“Burn a house down for pills, that you are lucky you can sell. Come on now. It just doesn’t make sense,” Sack said.
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