By IVY HERRON
The jury heard two very different versions of the case against Samantha Jean Bascom in Clay County Superior Court Tuesday.
Bascom is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit arson for hire, one count of arson for hire (both are class B felonies), one count of fraud (a class D felony) and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor (both class A misdemeanors) for her alleged involvement in an arson-for-hire scheme to burn down a modular home she owned located at 6815 W. Public Road in Coalmont for insurance money in June 2004.
In opening statements, the prosecution portrayed Bascom, 46, of Coalmont, as the greedy mastermind behind the creation of a "very simple plan" to solve all her financial problems stemming from a divorce.
"It was such a simple plan, so easy to concoct. It was the answer to all of Samantha Bascom's problems, and in the spring of 2004, Samantha had a lot of problems," Special Prosecutor Hal Johnston said. "Who has the motive, what is the reason behind this case? The motive is the $165,725 (Bascom) tried to get from State Farm Insurance several months after the fire. It was money to fix her problems, it was greed."
In its opening statement, the defense said Bascom was the real victim in the case. A juvenile - a meth addict who confessed to the crime - burned her home to the ground and an evicted tenant gave false information that tainted the investigation into the arson.
"Samantha Bascom loved that modular home and (wanted it back so that) she could move out of her mother's home and live in it with her children," said Geoffrey Creason, Bascom's defense attorney. "There are witnesses who will testify here in court that will muddy the simple logic of the plan the prosecution presented and thought they had. I think you'll have trouble finding a conviction in this case when all the evidence is presented."
The prosecution put six witnesses on the stand Tuesday afternoon. A seventh witness did not have time to complete their testimony before the court adjourned at 4 p.m.
Lewis Township Volunteer Fire Chief Bryan Husband testified as to the time the fire began, how the department was notified, response times and verification of pictures taken at the scene.
"It had been burning a while because the structure was partially down and the roof was gone when I arrived," he said. "The northwest corner wall was missing and the floor was gone, which are signs an accelerant was used to start the fire."
Husband met with Bascom and the tenant (Doris Robertson) to get their approvals for consent to search the property the morning of the fire, June 6, 2004.
Husband said Bascom, who didn't appear upset, told him that she had evicted the tenants three days before and suspected them of starting the fire. Robertson, he said, was upset and concerned about her personal belongings.
Clay County Sheriff's Department Det. Sgt. Robert Gambill was dispatched to the scene to investigate the fire. Unable to locate Bascom, Gambill interviewed Robertson at her friend's home. It was after this interview that information surfaced implicating Bascom was involved in the arson.
A 9-year old juvenile told Gambill he overheard a conversation between two boys about "torching'" the modular home the day before the fire.
The boy appeared in court Tuesday with his mother to state these facts.
Under questioning by the defense, the juvenile, now 11, said he did not remember his statement to Gambill about hearing where the discussion took place or that they talked about "opening the gas stove" to start the fire.
The juvenile identified Kenny Wayne Austin and Bascom's son as the two boys he heard talking.
Gambill said a phone call from Austin's mother led to an interview, and his confession, at the Lewis Township Fire Station.
Prosecutor Johnston said Austin was not given a deal for his testimony and pointed out that Austin admitted in court, without an attorney, his complete involvement in the arson.
Austin, who was 15 at the time of the arson, said his two-year meth addiction in 2004 clouded his judgement, causing him to steal for drug money.
A day or two before the fire, Austin said Bascom's son asked him if he would like to help burn down a modular home for $100, and then, on Saturday, Bascom came to the basketball court at the Coalmont Park to ask if he was going to do 'it', offering him $500 after the insurance paid off the claim on the fire.
"I did (want to do it)," he said. "I went over there to spend the night camping (Bascom's mother's house with her son). We went swimming, jumped on the trampoline and then talked to Samantha about using candles (to set the fire). She gave us instructions and told us to 'get it done.'"
Later that same evening, Austin said Bascom's mother, Bertha Bedwell, gave them a set of keys to the modular home and said, "Make sure you get it done and don't tell my husband."
The two boys set an alarm clock for 1 a.m., so they could set the fire as Bascom suggested, according to Austin. They used the keys, entered the modular and set the fire using the candles Bascom purchased from a retail store in the Jasonville area.
Austin said they watched to see if the modular would catch fire for about an hour.
"We stuck our faces inside the door to see if it caught fire," Austin said. "There was a lot of smoke, but we could see flames. We pulled our faces out, went back to our camp and went to bed. We didn't get up until 7:30 a.m. There was nothing going on."
Creason questioned the prosecution's assertion that deals for testimony had not been made, by reminding Austin of offers made by several people "to help you out" and make sure he wasn't charged as an adult facing 30 years in prison.
"There were no adult charges, no jail time, only home detention and probation," Creason said. "You were offered a lot for your testimony."
Erin Calahan, 17, said Bascom asked him twice to burn down the modular home for $500 when he was at Bertha Bedwell's home.
"The first time she asked me we were alone on the front porch, but I thought she was drunk and ignored her," Calahan said. "The second time Samantha and her mother were out on the porch together. They asked me if I was going to burn down the house. I said no. She said she was going to get a $100,000 from the insurance."
State Farm Insurance Agent Marcey Durm said she talked with Bascom about her homeowners policy on June 1 or 2.
"She wanted to know what was covered, what wasn't," Durm said.
Durm said she discussed refinancing options available through her company and wrote a letter to Bascom on June 3 about qualification details if she were approved. The loan never went through because of the fire on June 6, 2004.
In December 2004, Bascom and her mother attempted to file a proof of loss statement with State Farm Insurance. Durm said the claim was worth $165,725 for the total replacement cost of the insured home and its contents.
After paying off the mortgage on the modular home (estimated around $80,000), Durm said the remaining money would have been paid to Bascom and her husband if the claim had been approved.
On cross examination, the defense raised questions about who filled out the information on the claim.
"I filled out the top portion, but didn't have my license at the time to complete the document. Barbara Horner, who did have a licence, filled out the bottom," Durm said. "The other portion of the document was filled out when it was brought in."
The prosecution wanted to know what time was wrote down for when the fire started in this previously filled out portion of the claim.
"It says the fire started at 2 a.m.," Durm answered. "I can't say who wrote that, but it was filled out when Samantha Bascom brought the form in."
Creason criticized the arson investigation, saying witnesses were overlooked. He also questioned Gambill's use of interrogation techniques to acquire a confession from a worried mother when he asked, "Didn't you lie to Samantha Bascom when you told her her son confessed to the arson? Didn't she just repeat information in her confession that you told her during the interview?"
Gambill said he took advantage of a missed cell phone call while talking with Bascom after her arrest and transport to the Clay County Jail in the front seat of his police cruiser.
"It is an interrogation technique to talk to a subject and tell them a co-conspirator has talked, implicating them in the crime. These are approved interrogation techniques I have trained extensively for during my law enforcement career," he said. "(Bascom) said everything was going wrong, told me the boys did the arson on their own. She said Paul had admitted to his part in the arson and she was worried. I used that information during the interrogation. She implicated her son."
The trial is set to resume at 10:30 a.m. today.