WASHINGTON - Day 6 of the Mansion Murders trial began with an argument over a photograph – and laying out evidence that prosecutors believe will eventually point to Daron Wint.
The photo in question was of 10-year-old Philip Savopolous’ burned body.
The defense argued that it was too disturbing and didn’t want it shown to the jury. The prosecution said it was important to illustrate the extent of the fire and the damage caused to Philip’s body.
Judge Juliet McKenna said she would allow it. In the gallery, a victim’s advocate huddled with Savopolous family members, suggesting they may not want to be in the courtroom for that part.
Mr. and Mrs. Savopolous decided to leave, while Jim Martin – Amy Savopolous’ father – stayed.
Lt. Corey Goetz with DC Fire and EMS returned to the stand. Wearing his dress blue uniform, Goetz described the harrowing scene when he entered the second bedroom.
It was dark, smoky and as he stepped forward, Goetz said he started to fall through a hole in the floor. The hole, he said, was unexpected – because the house wasn’t in bad shape and he didn’t think the fire had been burning for that long. As he fell, he grabbed for something to hold on to.
First, he felt the charred wooden frame of a bed. Then, a body. Goetz said it appeared to be “in a bad state of decomposition from burning."
Prosecutor Christopher Bruckmann asked him to elaborate.
“I couldn’t make it out,” Goetz said. “There were no bottoms to the legs, and when I felt the head, I couldn’t feel a face.”
At that point, the jury was shown the photo.
Some members of the jury closed their eyes, others shook their heads. Bruckmann made a note for the record that the photo was only up for 5 seconds, but it was enough to leave an impression.
The rest of the morning was spent laying out evidence collection in meticulous detail. Fire Investigator Tomi Rucker talked to the jury about how she surveyed the outside of the house, then the inside.
When she went in, “I could smell gasoline, or an odor consistent with gasoline”, she testified.
Prosecutors walked her through several photographs of the rooms of the home with Rucker telling the jury what different things signaled to her.
Bedroom No. 2, where Philip Savopolous' body was found, looked as if everything in it had been built with lump charcoal. A flashover said, Rucker.
So hot that everything burns simultaneously. While looking at an enlargement of that black burned out hole in the floor of bedroom No. 2, she said that area was the point of origin for the fire.
“We believe an unknown person used gasoline and open flame,” Rucker said.
DC Evidence Technician Ofc. Jeffrey Henderson was next on the stand. He discussed how police detect and collect evidence: photographing, documenting, assigning numbers then placing items in tamper-proof plastic bags.
A photo was shown of two gray telephone boxes located in the back of the house, near the white French doors that open into the kitchen. Five wires coming out of those boxes had been cut.
Henderson also said he noticed a small piece of silver duct tape in the driveway. It was located near the double garage doors, in between the white Range Rover and the red Audi that were parked side-by-side on the driveway. The duct tape was labeled MPD Item 1.
Henderson testified that he was given other items from Det. Mike Pavero: No. 2, a shirt; No. 3, a piece of bedding; No. 4, a piece of fire debris; No. 5 a blade; and No. 6, another piece of duct tape.
In the coming days, prosecutors will continue to detail the physical evidence with technicians and detectives. The defense will suggest that collection and control of the evidence was not done properly, thus casting doubt on its evidentiary value.
Then, we assume, they will turn their attention to Daron Wint.