Testimony begins in alleged arson case
by MAC OVERTON
Dec 16, 2010 | 1398 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo / Dixon Cartwright<br>
THIS WAS THE SCENE on March 20, 2008, after a fire gutted the building at 119 E. Gilmer St. in Big Sandy. The owner of the building went on trial in 115th District Court Monday, charged with arson. The trial was expected to conclude today.
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Testimony began Monday in 115th District Court in Gilmer in the arson trial of Wesley Leon Spangler. He is accused of torching his Big Sandy home, which was in a 100-year-or-more-old building in the old Big Sandy downtown area. A jury for the trial was chosen last week.

Spangler, 39, is charged in connection with a March 19, 2008 fire at the building at 119 E. Gilmer St. in Big Sandy. At one time, it was a feed store.

Spangler had operated a tattoo parlor there and the rest of the building was converted into an apartment for his family.

It is next to the Big Sandy Police Station and across the street from the Big Sandy Volunteer Fire Department.

Since the fire, warning signs have been posted telling people not to walk or park near the east wall of the structure. On the west side, it adjoins the Kelley Insurance Agency and is part of a row of store fronts on Gilmer St.

District Attorney Billy Byrd said the prosecution expected to rest on Tuesday, with the defense then presenting its case.

The trial was expected to end today (Wednesday, Dec. 15).

If he is convicted, 115th District Judge Lauren Parish will set the punishment, said his lawyer, Bobby Mims of Tyler.

Assistant District Attorney Edward Choy is handling the prosecution, assisted by Byrd and Christie Martin, another assistant district attorney.

Byrd told The Mirror that the prosecution intended to show that the fire was intentional versus accidental, and that Spangler had a motive for the blaze, which gutted the building.

“We feel we have enough circumstantial evidence for a conviction,” Byrd said.

The defense claims that the fire was accidental, possibly caused by faulty wiring.

Spangler and his family were not home at the time of the fire.

On Monday, the State called two expert witnesses, both federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents specializing in fire investigations. They were Larry Smith and David Pollard. Smith is planning to retire at the end of January after 35 years with the ATF.

Both are part of the ATF’s National and Internation Response Team, investigating suspected arson, explosives and incendiary devices in the U.S. and around the world.

In his testimony, Smith said that common motives for arson include financial gain and retaliation.

Smith described his investigation into the blaze, and said that his probe indicated that the fire originated at the right end of a couch in the apartment’s living room.

He explained to the jury how burn patterns and damage patterns led him to that conclusion, and how an accelerant sniffing dog had marked the area.

Smith said that he believed the fire had started with a “light to medium” liquid accelerant, such as lighter fluid, petroleum distillates, or alcohol, rather than a “heavy” accelerant, such as gasoline or diesel fuel.

From the witness stand, he used a lazer pointer to show certain areas on a PowerPoint presentation of photos from inside the gutted structure.

He showed fallen light fixtures and other metal objects showed “heavy oxidation,” indicating the nature of the fire. In addition to burned areas, he showed heat damage to various places in the building.

He said the blaze could have reached 1,200 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. He said copper melts at about 1,900 degrees, and melted wiring was found in the ruins.

He showed a picture of the underside of a coffee table from the living room, indicating that something had burned under the table. He pointed out “even charring” under the table.

He also described arcing on “branch circuits,” indicating that the insulation had burned off the wiring.

Defense attorney Mims asked questions about whether the fire could have started in the attic.

“No,” Smith said. He said the fire pattern showed the blaze originated in the living area of the building.

In response to a defense question about the accelerant-detecting dog, Smith said that “the dog is nothing more than a tool”—one of many that are used in arson investigations.

He said the dog had “alerted” on spots on the burned up sofa.

Smith also told the court that investigators go into a case without preconceived ideas, but let the evidence determine their conclusions.

“When we go to investigation a fire, we investigate a fire, not an arson,” Smith said.

He said that it would have been a lot easier to say “the fire was of undetermined origin,” than to come to the arson conclusion. “Then I could go to the house.”

Mims asked him “is it possible you are wrong?”

“I don’t think so,” Smith replied.

While Pollard was on the stand, a CD was played of an interview he had with Spangler shortly after the fire.

“I learned of the fire when a buddy called me on my cell phone and said ‘your house is on fire,’” Spangler told the investigator. He said he normally didn’t lock a door to his residence. Spangler sounded like he was crying during part of the interview.

He said that he had left a lamp and a fan on when he left that evening, and that he and his family had gone out to dinner in separate vehicles that evening.
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December 18, 2010
he was wrongfully convicted!!!!! The big sandy fire chief said on the stand and under oath that..when he entered the building nothing in the room was on fire, he said the only thing burning was the ceiling. how could it start under a coffee table but burn the ceiling first?!?!?!?!?!?!the atf initially said they could not say that it was arson nor could they say it wasnt!!!!! how do you convict someone when there is no proof?!?!?!?!?!?!!!?!? The DA just doesnt like him personally cause he owned a strip club and did tatoos and was kinda more or loess lower class than himself. he was convicted on his character, not substantial evidence!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!