Church trial opens with focus on fire

First Posted: 2/11/2015

LIMA — A prosecutor told a jury Wednesday during the first day of testimony that Hager Church was a brutal killer who has murdered three people, two of whom are the subjects of the trial in which he is facing the death penalty.

A defense attorney for Church said his client only has been convicted of one of the murders and the current case has some issues, namely the deaths of the two people were first ruled an accident.

Steve Chamberlain said a fire investigator ruled a space heater caused the fire.

“Until Hager Church began to tell his story and tell his story at great length to Detective [Steve[ Stechschulte several years after the fact did anything change,” Chamberlain said.

But Assistant Allen County Prosecutor Jana Emerick said Church killed Massie “Tina” Flint, 45, and her boyfriend, Rex Hall, 54, on June 14, 2009. She said Church set the fire in a house at 262 S. Pine St. to cover up what he thought was killing Flint with a pipe wrench by bashing her in the head.

“Both Massie Flint and Rex Hall died in their home that night as Hager Church intended,” Emerick said.

She also said the 30-year-old Church later confessed to a police detective that he killed both and the evidence backs his statements.

The prosecution called a series of witnesses, including police and firefighters who responded to the scene. One of the bigger witnesses was Lima Fire Arson Investigator Toby Jenkins, who initially ruled the fire accidental and blamed a space heater. Jenkins said there were no usual signs of arson such as a burn pattern left behind from an accelerant such as gasoline.

“We looked for an ignition source,” he said. “The ignition source I thought was responsible would have been a space heater.”

That space heater was found in the room on the first floor where Flint’s body was found.

The origin of the fire, determined by the most fire damage, was near the space heater and a couch, Jenkins said.

Church’s attorney, Greg Meyers, limited his attack on Jenkins with a handful of questions, including how far the space heater was from the couch that a prosecutor said Church set on fire to burn down the house. Jenkins said 10 to 12 feet from the couch.

A forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy said both victims died of smoke inhalation. Dr. Cynthia Beisser also testified Flint had blunt force trauma to her head, which could have been caused by a pipe wrench but she was alive when the fire killed her.

One of the last people to see Flint and Hall alive, Trevor Hall, testified seeing Church at their home in the hours before their death. Church was in the kitchen and he talked to Church for five to 10 minutes, he said.

The daughter of Debra Henderson, who Church admitted to killing in 2010 for which he was given a life sentence, testified about finding her mother’s body. Henderson’s death is part of the case and a death penalty specification.

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