OTTUMWA-Court resumed on Friday morning, February 10th in the trial of Ottumwa man Chris Yenger. Yenger is accused of intentionally setting a fire in March 2006 that killed two people. Ottumwa men Nate Messer and Seth Anderson were the victims of that fire.
Prior to the jury being brought into the courtroom, the judge heard from Defense attorneys who were asking for a change of venue in the trial. However, Judge Joel Yates denied the request. He said he believed that they were able to find a good pool of unbiased jurors.
The State’s first witness of the day was Wapello County Deputy Aaron McConnell. Deputy McConnell was included in the investigation in December 2015. He was involved in the interview of Kyle Jameson, who was with Yenger the night of the fire. Jameson admitted that Yenger said he wanted to burn the house down, and returned to do just that.
Christopher Showalter was an inmate in Wapello County Jail when Yenger and his co-defendant, Zachary Dye, were both arrested for the alleged crime. Showalter claims that Yenger stated that he had “two bodies” and that was the reason for his incarceration, meaning people that he had killed. He testified that Yenger talked about the fire and gave details of what happened. Showalter also says he heard Yenger tell Dye to stick to their story and they should be okay. Yenger also allegedly told another inmate how to find Jameson and make sure that he wouldn’t make it to court. Meaning to hurt or kill the witness.
Dye childhood friend, James “J.J.” Heckethorn, also testified. He claims that Dye contacted him the day after the fire to tell him what happened. He says he believes that Dye was remorseful and seemed very upset while appearing to have tears in his eyes. Heckethorn did not contact police at that time because of the fact Dye was a close friend.
Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Don Schnitker conducted interviews in January 2016. He led the interview with Jameson in which he first came clean with information from that night. SA Schnitker asked Jameson to conduct a controlled call with Yenger to talk about the fire. During the call Jameson mentioned the fire and gasoline, however, Yenger said that they could meet in person to talk and didn’t want to discuss it on the phone.
The court also had the chance to hear the voice of the defendant for the first time. An audio recording of his January 19, 2016 interview with SA Schnitker was played. Although Yenger continued to deny guilt, after the interview arrest warrants for two counts of Murder in the 1st Degree were drawn up for Yenger and Dye.
After SA Schnitker’s testimony, the State rested. Outside of the presence of the jury, the Defense asked for an immediate judgment for acquittal. They believed that the State did not prove Yenger guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, Judge Yates denied the request.
Court will resume at 8:30AM on Tuesday, February 14th. The Post will be live in the courtroom to continue coverage. We will be posting updates on Facebook and Twitter throughout the trial, which can be viewed on the left-hand side of our website and at https://twitter.com/ottumwapost or https://www.facebook.com/ottumwapost/