HAMILTON, Ohio – The homeowner on trial for murder in the death of firefighter Patrick Wolterman was “under water” financially, behind in mortgage payments and with a limited income from flea market sales, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser told a jury in opening statements Tuesday.
That is when Lester Parker hatched a plan to burn his house down for insurance money, and his nephew agreed to help for payment in pills, Gmoser said, according to The Journal-News.
Parker and his nephew, William “Billy” Tucker, are both charged with arson and murder in the fire at the Pater Avenue residence that killed Wolterman on Dec. 28, 2015. Wolterman died when he fell through the first floor.
The jury of five women and seven men went to Parker’s house Tuesday before opening statements began in the three-week trial in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
“This was supposed to be a simple insurance job,” Gmoser said. “They didn’t intend for Patrick Wolterman to get killed. They just didn’t give it any thought.”
The prosecutor said Tucker planned a trip to Las Vegas that he could not afford and his daughters were going to take him to the airport on the day of the fire.
In the weeks prior, Parker took pictures of items in his house and even moved out some items, including a picture that he held dear, Gmoser told the jury.
Before flying to Vegas with his wife, Parker told one of his daughters if anything happened the important papers about the house were in the garage.
Gmoser said Tucker agreed to set the fire in exchange for pills that Parker’s daughter will testify were kept in the second floor of the house.
Tucker was “desperate” to get a ride from Richmond, Kentucky, to Hamilton on Dec. 28, 2015 and enlisted a former girlfriend and another woman in exchange for pills, Gmoser said.
The women dropped off Tucker at the intersection of Pater Avenue and Grand Boulevard, according to Gmoser. He said a Hamilton Police license plate reader will verify the car was at the intersection at the right time.
When Tucker returned minutes later, “He is out of breath and he is carrying his bag. He is carrying a gas can and has pills,” Gmoser told the jury.
The prosecutor said when Tucker popped the clasp of the lock in the basement of the Pater Avenue residence, he found a “gas can and pills waiting for him.”
Tucker then poured gas on the “stuff” and ran, Gmoser said.
Parker’s defense attorney, David Washington, called the prosecution’s opening statements a “fantastic story” without proof. Washington challenged the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, calling them “pill heads and dope thieves.”
“Lester Parker had nothing to do with any fire at his house,” Washington said.
Tucker’s defense attorney, Tamara Sack, said his client has an alibi for the time of the fire. She claimed Tucker did come to Hamilton on Dec. 28, 2015, but he went to a different house to get pills.
“Coincidences galore,” Sack said, referring to the prosecution’s case.
Both Parker and Tucker declined to attend Tuesday’s jury view of the home and surrounding area. Both defense attorneys requested the jury view the scene.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Wolterman entered the burning home because he and other firefighters were told an older couple may have been trapped inside, officials said.
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