Advertisement

Murder trial delayed

October 23, 2000|By BOB PARTLOW

Murder trial delayed



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Circuit Court Judge David Sanders Monday delayed the trial of Sara Howard until February to provide time for questions about the cause of the fire that killed her three children to be resolved.

The prosecution has contended gasoline was used to start the Nov. 13 blaze. The defense has an expert who says no gasoline was present.

The conflicting experts met Monday and decided to defer to a third expert, John Dehaan of California. It is uncertain how long his work will take. If re-tests are needed of the material from the house at 211 E. Liberty St. the case would have to be delayed.

"It may not be necessary to re-test," Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said in court. "Initially what we want to do is send the paperwork."

Advertisement

The sample from the fire was tested twice by the state, once by the state crime lab and again by a private lab in Georgia. The first test showed gasoline, she said. Because that finding was so specific, she felt it important to test again, she said. The second test showed "trace" amounts of gasoline.

"This is just a double-check," she said in an interview. "The reason we need new tests now is because our expert said 'gasoline, definitely' and theirs said "there's no gasoline and there never was.' It's not a question of degree. It's a question of yes or no."

Sanders postponed the pre-trial hearing Monday and rescheduled the trial for Feb. 6.

Other factors also led to the delay, said defense attorney Jerome Dambro in an interview.

"There's the issue of change of venue" which may be necessary because of pre-trial publicity, Dambro said. "The judge still hasn't decided on that and, assuming there is a change of venue and we have to move the trial or have a jury brought in, that will take time. And there is the complexity of the case."

Howard is charged with setting the fire, then leaving her three-year old twins and four-year son behind as she climbed out a window.

The use of an "accelerant" to start the blaze is key to the prosecution's case that the fire was started deliberately.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|