By IVY HERRON
The plot thickened in the Samantha Jean Bascom arson trial during the last two days of testimony in Clay Superior Court.
A total of six witnesses took the stand to testify in the case Wednesday, and two rebuttal witnesses returned to the stand Thursday.
Special Prosecutor Hal Johnston put two witnesses on the stand Wednesday before resting the arson case against Bascom.
Doris Robertson was first to take the stand, completing her testimony from Tuesday for the prosecution.
Robertson said she and her husband never had any intention of renting Bascom's modular home at 6815 W. Public Road in Coalmont.
"Hindsight is always better when you look back at things. She printed the contract from the internet and I signed it in good faith. I thought I was buying a modular home and three lots, but a couple of months later, in May, Samantha and her mother, Bertha Bedwell, came to the house and said there was a problem with the title. Samantha didn't have a clear title because her parents' names were on it," she said. "Samantha told me that all she could sell was the modular home, but I wanted to continue with the contract."
Bascom's defense attorney Geoffrey Creason took issue with how Robertson paid rent, her refusal to pay rent when it was requested and threatening statements she allegedly made.
"I pay all my bills by money order, on time, so I have receipts. When Samantha asked for it early in April, I told her I only had cash and would not pay the rent until I had a money order for it," Robertson said.
Lawrn Williams, Bascom's brother, disagreed with Robertson's version of that event.
"Sam asked me to walk down with her to the modular home to get the rent," Williams said. "Dee invited Sam inside and told me to wait outside. I could hear them talking. Dee said she wasn't going to pay the rent because there was a problem with the title. Samantha said she'd file an eviction notice if Dee didn't pay the rent and Dee said she'd burn the house down before she'd let Sam have it back."
The prosecution called Jennifer Barr, a claim representative and member of the special investigation unit (SUI) for State Farm Insurance, to provide information about arson investigation procedures, information about the filing process and outcome of the proof of loss claim and Bascom's statements made under oath to the insurance company. Barr's most shocking testimony was her surprising discovery of a quit claim deed in the Clay County Recorder's Office.
"On April 13, 2000, Bertha Bedwell signed a quit claim deed to release the property -- three lots located at 6815 W. Public Road in Coalmont -- to her daughter Samantha Jean Bascom," Barr said, reading from the document in court. "In early August I came to the Clay County Courthouse with the purpose of finding out who owned the land in question. I found this. In my opinion, Bascom owned the property."
Creason questioned the validity of the document and the convenient timing of its discovery. He asked Barr if the Warranty Deed for the property was found, she said no.
Barr also testified that Bascom and Bertha Bedwell appeared for an interview and provided a sworn statement for State Farm Insurance in Nov. 2004.
"It was a very unusual situation. These are usually done alone, but we allowed her mother to come in for moral support because she had just got out of jail. We asked if she wanted an attorney present and she declined," Barr said. "We obtained a recorded statement from Samantha, but her mother kept interjecting to volunteer information that Samantha wasn't clear on. At different points in the interview, Bertha was answering the questions."
As defense attorney Creason presented four witnesses to testify to Bascom's innocence, the jurors asked questions about testimony detailing a conspiracy theory that led to the arson and ultimately to Bascom being tricked into a confession by law enforcement.
Bascom's brother, Williams, said he believed Robertson, Kenny Wayne Austin, Austin's mother Kelly Welch and Samantha's ex-husband, Jerry Bascom were the "guilty people" who burned down the modular home.
"I think (they) started it," Williams testified. "Samantha, my mom (Bertha Bedwell) and (Sam's son) are all innocent. I went to the Clay County Sheriff's Office and met Rob Gambill. (He) said there was a problem with the investigation -- I didn't ask why because his attitude being like 'leave me alone' -- I didn't tell (him) what I knew."
The prosecution asked why it took Williams eight days to go to the sheriff's department, why he never went to the prosecutor's office, why he never gave an official statement in the case to authorities and why the only statement he did give - which never mentioned the guilty people - was used for the insurance company.
Williams didn't answer the first three questions, but said he thought Bascom deserved to get the money if she was supposed to get it.
Gambill, testifying as a rebuttal witness Thursday, said Williams never came forward with information about the case.
The jury wanted to know where and who wrote Williams' statement.
"Sam asked for the statement," he said. "I wrote it at my mom's house (on Oct. 10, 2004) in my own words and by myself."
Jerry Goad testified, "I wanted to write a statement because Samantha is a nice girl who couldn't have done this."
Goad said Austin, who is a distant relative, admitted to committing the arson on behalf of Robertson for $500 and did it without any help.
"(Austin) said he started the fire using a candle in the middle of the floor and poured gasoline around the floor. He never mentioned anyone helping him," he said. "I can only testify to what I know -- court will decide the rest -- but I can't see someone get in trouble for something they didn't do."
Goad said his live-in girlfriend, Tammy Farnsworth, is Bascom's sister, he believes law enforcement will destroy evidence and he has known Gambill for several years.
"I don't have a phone," Goad said when asked why he didn't contact Gambill about the case. "Samantha has one, but I didn't ask to use it."
Goad said he took his statement to Bascom when the jury asked how she got his statement and didn't know why his and William's statements were dated the same day.
Christa Hertus, Bascom's best friend and boss while working at a retail outlet in Jasonville for eight months, testified that Sam was an honest person who "couldn't lie to your face."
Hertus said the divorce from Jerry Bascom, the contract problems with Doris Robertson, the financial problems and lack of employment opportunities was upsetting Bascom to the point she was worried about her friend.
"About two to three weeks before the fire Sam came and talked to me, she was very upset," Hertus said. "I told her it would be alright. Sam said she wanted the modular home so that she'd have a place for her and her kids to stay in, but Dee told her she'd burn it down before she let Sam have it back."
When asked if she had seen documents from the case, Hertus said she saw Bascom's confession.
"I asked her three times if she did this and each time she looked me straight in the face and said no. She said she doesn't know who did it other than Kenny Wayne Austin. I'd have known if she was lying to me," Hertus said. "Samantha said she wrote that statement because Gambill said she'd be a bad mother if she didn't. Sam said he told her what to write. She did it to protect her son."
The prosecution pointed out that if what Bascom says is true, then she can lie to someone, straight in the face.
"Sam said she told him her statement would be a lie," Hertus said. "She said Gambill told her he didn't care."
On the witness stand, Bascom testified to other ways she said Gambill coerced her to write a confession the day of the fire.
"(Gambill) said 'What kind of mother would allow let her son take the wrap?' while he drove me to the jail," Bascom said.
When the jury asked why she implicated her son in the statement knowing it would get him in trouble, Bascom said, "I did what I was told to do."
Bascom accused Gambill of fabricating evidence and lying to her about her son's involvement; which made her feel threatened enough that she had to write a dictated confession with information he provided to her because of his relationship with Robertson.
Bascom testified that Gambill "is related to Dee and she called him (to the investigation) because she wanted my home" before implicating others who were taking advantage of the situation or trying to make her, and her family, look guilty.
In rebuttal testimony, Gambill said he contacted his mother to confirm that he is not related to Robertson and that he never manufactured evidence, did not commit perjury in court and he never dictated to Bascom what to write in her statement.
"Dee Robertson threatened to put me in jail three times ... Wayne Austin said he wanted to burn my house down. He said it would be OK because he'd done it before and nobody would know ... Kelly Welch said you can make money by burning down a house. Erin Calahan was there and offered to do it for $55 ... (and after the fire) Welch demanded $2,000 from me to keep her from telling the authorities what Wayne did for me," she said. "I told Gambill, but he said he wouldn't believe anything I said."
Bascom said the guilty people should be investigated and prosecuted.
"I will testify to the Supreme Court if I have to against Robertson, Welch, Gambill and the Clay County Sheriff's Department," she said. "I'm innocent. I wrote to "20/20", "60 Minutes" and even Oprah Winfrey to try and get someone to tell my story, but no one has responded."
Defense attorney Creason reminded the jury in closing arguments this is a 'simple case with simple players' involved.
"We're not accusing Gambill of perjury. He wasn't under oath when he admitted to lying to Samantha about her son. (She confessed) to deflect her son's blame to herself by writing the statement," he said. "(The case comes down to this:) Do you believe a jilted, unemployed, desperate single mother of three kids made a remark in front of two misguided juvenile delinquents -- one being her son -- who took the idea and ran with it. Or do you believe in a grand conspiracy in Coalmont, Ind.? Only you can decide what justice is in this case. I believe you will render a verdict consistent with fairness and find Samantha Bascom not guilty."
After a lengthy case, trial, evidence and instruction summary to the jury, Special Prosecutor Hal Johnston was blunt in his closing.
"This (defense) is insulting to your intelligence," he said.