Hamilton homeowner pleads not guilty to murder, arson in death of Hamilton firefighter

More arrests expected, police chief says
Posted at 2:41 PM, Dec 12, 2016

HAMILTON, Ohio — On Monday afternoon, Hamilton police arrested the homeowner in the arson fire that killed Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman a year ago this month.

Lester Parker, 66, pleaded not guilty to charges of felony murder and aggravated arson charges, at his arraignment Tuesday morning at the Butler County Common Pleas Court. A judge set his bond at $500,000, and Parker will return to court on Dec. 19 for a pretrial hearing.

WATCH video of the news conference and WCPO's exclusive 2015 interview with Parker below.



Wolterman fell through the first floor of Parker's home while fighting a blaze on Dec. 28, 2015.

Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said he is "confident" this will not be the only arrest in the case. Investigators have "amassed an overwhelming amount of evidence," Bucheit said. Officials declined to discuss the evidence or motive, saying the investigation is ongoing. He said Parker has cooperated with investigators.

At the time, Parker told WCPO that he and his wife were in Las Vegas celebrating their wedding anniversary on the night of the fire. Parker said his home had been burglarized just weeks before the fire. He said firearms and other items were stolen and that wires connecting his ADT security system were cut.

LISTEN to WCPO's interview with Parker here:




Emergency crews were alerted to the Pater Avenue fire by a burglary alarm. When police arrived at Parker's home, they found heavy smoke pouring out of the two-story building.

Wolterman entered the burning home because he and other firefighters were told an older couple may have been trapped inside.

Burcheit said Wolterman's family was "incredibly grateful" for the news of Parker's arrest.

"They're good people and they've been through a lot. We're just happy to deliver this small piece of comfort and closure to them," Burcheit said.

Wolterman was a 2005 graduate of Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati. He joined the Hamilton Fire Department in April 2015 after serving with the Fairfield and Colerain Township departments. He and his wife Bre had been married for seven months.

Within days of the fatal fire, fire marshals ruled it a case of arson, and police began investigating Wolterman’s death as a homicide.

In March, Wolterman's death was officially ruled a homicide by Butler County Coroner Lisa Mannix, who cited smoke inhalation as the primary cause of death.

“Other significant conditions contributing to the line of duty death were carbon monoxide toxicity and thermal injuries,” according to a report filed by Andy Willis, a coroner’s office investigator.

The murder charge carries a sentence of 15 years to life and a $15,000 fine, according to Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser. The arson charge carries a maximum of 11 years and $20,000 fine.

Hamilton Director of Public Safety J. Scott Scrimizzi called it "a bittersweet" day. He called it the "most extensive investigation" in his 32-year association with Hamilton police and thanked the team of investigators, including the state Fire Marshal's Office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives  - and "most importantly, the Investigations Section of the Hamilton Police Department."

"i've said it before, but you guys are truly second to none," Scrimizzi said.

"There are a handful of investigators that worked continuously on this case since December. They have not stopped," Bucheit said. "It's been a slow, methodical process."

For almost a year, Fire Chief Steve Dawson said, his department "has to continued to grieve and continued to try to recover" from Wolterman's death. "Also during that year, we never lost faith in the Hamilton police department," Dawson said. "So I really want to thank Chief Bucheit and his team."

"In all of this, though, what we should remember is the Wolterman family," Dawson said. "Please continue to remember the Wolterman family in your thoughts and prayers."

Bucheit said no one has claimedthe$25,000 reward and it's still available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any others involved.