The trial of two men charged with arson and murder in the 2015 death of Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman continued Monday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
William “Billy” Tucker, 46, of Richmond, Ky., and his uncle Lester Parker, 67, are charged with arson and murder in the fire at Parker’s Pater Avenue home that killed Wolterman on Dec. 28, 2015.
Prosecutors say Parker was “underwater” financially in the fall of 2015 and hatched a plan to set the house on fire for insurance money. Tucker agreed to light the fire in exchange for pain pills, according to prosecutors.
Parker and his wife, Bertha, left Hamilton on the afternoon of Dec. 27, 2017, and were in Las Vegas when fire consumed the residence at 1310 Pater during the early morning hours of the next day.
The lead detective on the case, Sgt. Matt Fishwick, testified Parker called police just hours after the deadly fire from Vegas. When he returned the call to Parker, Fishwick said he immediately named three people who could have been involved.
At that time, Fishwick said it was early in the investigation but officials knew it was a very strong possibility the fire was arson, but he did not share that detail with Parker.
“He told me off the bat that he suspected Jeremy Jones (now married to his daughter Melissa) of having something to do with this,” Fishwick said.
The detective said Parker also named two other suspects, but they were eliminated through investigation.
Fishwick said Parker continued to give detectives information about suspicious people who could have been involved in the arson.
When Parker returned from Vegas, he talked to Fishwick stating he was “really surprised” Wolterman had fallen through the floor because the rafters were thick.
“He had a hard time believing the fire burned through the floor,” Fishwick said.
The jury viewed a re-enactment of how police believe the cellar doors were broken open with a small crow bar. The prosecution pointed to a bag witnesses said Tucker had with him when witnesses say he was driven to Hamilton on Dec. 27, 2015.
Last week fire investigators said the fire started in the cellar of the house under that area of the living room. Wolterman fell through the floor and his oxygen mask was knocked off. He died of smoke inhalation, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office.
A witness who put Tucker near the scene of the fire testified last week that she picked him up a the Richmond, Ky., CVS pharmacy and drove him to Hamilton’s East side in exchange for pills.
For $40 in gas and a promise of pain pills, Courtney Basinger said she made the two-hour trip to Richmond on Dec. 27, 2015, with three children and Tucker’s girlfriend to give him a ride to Hamilton.
Once back in Hamilton during the early morning hours of Dec. 28, the Liberty Twp. resident said Tucker told her they were going to “the Knob” and instructed her to drive to and then pull over on Grand Avenue.
“He got out of the car with the bag,” Basinger told the jury.
“He said he would be back in about 20 minutes, to wait for him,” she said, adding that Tucker walked toward Pater Avenue. “He seemed like he was in a hurry.”
When Tucker returned to the car, he had a gas can, Basinger said.
“He was out of breath,” she told the jury.
Tucker then unrolled a paper towel and gave her 10 opioid pills that she estimated were worth $30 each.
Melissa Lainhart-Jones, Parker’s older daughter, also testified last week that her family may have been involved in the deadly arson.
Lainhart-Jones took the stand Wednesday and testified she was an addict in the fall of 2015 and stole pills from her father’s home. She is now a recovering addict, she said.
For the past four weeks leading up to the trial, she has been housed at a hotel paid for by the city of Hamilton, she said.
Lainhart-Jones said she awoke about 4:30 a.m. Dec. 28, 2015, to see a a television screen with her family home in flames. She went to the scene and called her father, who was in Las Vegas with her mother.
From Las Vegas, Lainhart-Jones said Parker told her to “get my (expletive) out of there. Someone is going to pay dearly for that one.”
In April 2016, Lainhart-Jones said she was in the Butler County Jail for a probation violation. Paramedics at the jail had treated her for illness and they talked about the death of Wolterman, she said.
When her father came to visit her in jail, Lainhart-Jones said she told him about the conversation.
“He (Parker) put his head down. He said, ‘Tell them that I did not mean for that to happen,’” Lainhart-Jones said.
Since the fire, Lainhart-Jones said she has received $1,200 in payments from police for information about that fire and to pay her phone bill.
During her testimony and testimony from others last week, defense attorneys David Washington and Tamara Sack hammered home the fact that there is a monetary reward for information about the deadly arson. Parker had nothing to do with the fire at his house, Washington said and Sack said Tucker has an alibi for the time the fire started.
Washington, Parker’s attorney said during opening statements, the witnesses were “pill heads and dope thieves.”