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Published: Thursday, 8/16/2007

Powell jurors are shown photos of fire victims

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Powell Powell
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Jurors deciding the capital-murder case against Wayne Powell were given several images to mull over yesterday: photos of four arson-fire victims' sooty faces and a video of Mr. Powell denying he was involved.

In the third day of testimony, Lucas County prosecutors questioned the deputy county coroner and lead detective in their case against Mr. Powell, who is accused of setting the Nov. 11 fire at 814 St. John Ave. that killed two women and two children. Charged with 11 felony counts, including aggravated arson and murder, Mr. Powell faces the death penalty if convicted.

In an often contentious interview with Toledo Police Detective Jay Gast on the day after the fire, Mr. Powell denied pouring gasoline on a stairwell landing inside the home's side door and setting it on fire. He also said he "didn't kill nobody" and "didn't set nothing on fire."

Killed were Mr. Powell's on-and-off girlfriend, Mary Rose McCullom, 33, and her disabled mother, Rose Mary McCullom, 52. Also killed was the younger Ms. McCullom's adopted son, Jamal, 4, and her cousin, Sanaa' Thomas, 2.

Over the course of the trial, prosecutors have presented evidence of a household of eight sleeping just before 3 a.m. when fire erupted in the house. Four of the occupants survived, four did not.

Twenty-six witnesses have testified over the three days, including the woman and two of the three children who survived the fire. The emotional testimony of survivors told of the intense heat and thick smoke that enveloped the house.

In addition to the video of Mr. Powell's interview with police, prosecutors showed a video of Detective Gast inter-viewing Mr. Powell's younger brother, Isaac. During the short excerpt presented to the jury, Isaac Powell told the detective his brother had told him he had "put gas on the door" and "that he had set the door on fire."

Detective Gast, who had not yet been questioned by defense attorneys yesterday, will continue his testimony today before the jury of nine women and four men, including one alternate. Since the trial's start Monday, two jurors have been dismissed.

Also testifying yesterday was Deputy County Coroner Diane Barnett. Dr. Barnett explained how carbon monoxide is a product of a fire and how it affects the body. Showing autopsy photos of the four victims, Dr. Barnett pointed out soot collected in their air passages and ruled their deaths homicides.

Toledo Fire Department investigators Michael Smith and Andre Tiggs testified early yesterday about pinpointing the fire's point of origin, specifically in the landing between the basement and the kitchen at the home's side door.

Defense attorney Ann Baronas questioned Mr. Smith, the lead investigator on the case, about why that side door was not kept as evidence, a decision he said he made at the time because not everything can be kept.

She also asked whether the investigator could properly do his job without visiting the scene. Mr. Smith said he could not.

Defense attorneys have pointed out during the trial that the home at 814 St. John Ave. had been razed by the city earlier this year, before defense experts had a chance to view it. Today, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is expected to testify on his knowledge of the fire investigation and the decision to demolish the property.

At the end of the day, with the jury on a break, Mr. Powell told Judge Gary Cook that he was unhappy with his representation by his attorneys. He told the judge that they were not asking the questions he felt were appropriate.

After time with those attorneys, John Thebes and Ms. Baronas, in the judge's chambers, Mr. Powell returned to the courtroom and the judge dismissed the jury for the day.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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