Closing arguments are set to begin tomorrow morning in the trial of an Easley man charged with murder and arson in connection with the 2010 death of his wife.
Don Kinsela, who was indicted last year, chose not to testify in his own defense this afternoon.
Judge Letitia H. Verdin told Kinsela that the decision to testify or not rested solely with him, and not his defense counsel.
“It has to be your decision and your decision alone,” Verdin said. “This is your chance to tell your side of the story. However, you have an absolute right to remain silent in this matter. You do not have to take the stand.”
She told him the jury could not use a decision not to testify against him in any way.
“They may not even discuss it in the jury room,” Verdin said.
Kinsela's decision not to testify came after the defense presented two expert witnesses in fire safety sciences.
Following his decision, the defense rested its case.
The state rested its case this morning, after calling its final three witnesses, Registered Nurse Rachel Watson, SLED Trace Analyst Jennifer Stoner and forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Ward. Watson testified she was the initial nurse to treat Don Kinsela following his admittance to Baptist Easley Hospital following the July 3, 2010 fire that claimed the life of his wife Cheryl, and his primary nurse throughout his stay.
Watson testified that Kinsela received no treatment for any burns during his stay. When asked if she saw any burns on Kinsela's body, Watson replied that there was redness around Kinsela's face.
“His skin was intact,” she said. “There were no blisters or peeling.”
Later, Solicitor Walt Wilkins III got a defense witness, Dr. David Iscove, to testify that the redness could have resulted from flash burns caused by Kinsela pouring gasoline on the shed floor, then leaning down to ignite it.
Both Assistant Solicitor Doug E. Richardson and Defense Attorney Druanne White emphasized that Kinsela had cooperated fully with police the day of the fire and at the hospital.
White's cross-examination of Watson sought to establish that, though Kinsela cooperated with police that day, he may have still been under the influence of an injection of anti-anxiety medication Ativan administered at the hospital.
Evidence presented by the prosecution sought to establish that Kinsela deliberately set the fire that killed his wife, while the defense sought to prove that the fire was accidental in nature, a flash or vapor fire that ignited spilled gasoline rapidly, then grew out of control.
Wilkins told the jury they would find out that the case revolved around “fire and lies,” while White said that what happened on July 3, 2010 was “the biggest tragedy that could have happened to anybody.”
Stoner testified that analysis on samples sent to her from the scene of the fire showed the presence of gasoline and “a medium petroleum distillate.”
“Medium petroleum distillates” include charcoal starter lighter fluid, Stoner testified.
She also examined Cheryl Kinsela's clothes and shoes.
White asked Stoner if cross-contamination could have occurred if the clothing and shoes had been stored together following the fire.
Stoner said cross-contamination could have occurred.
In an recorded interview with police, Kinsela said he had spilled gasoline around the shed while trying to shake off a spider
Dr. Ward testified that Cheryl Kinsela died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide intoxication.
“During the fire, Ms. Kinsela was alive, breathing the components of the fire,” Ward testified. “Carbon when it burns, it's incompletely burned, so it produces carbon monoxide. Ms. Kinsela was inhaling that carbon monoxide as she breathed, as well as the particulate matter of the smoke.”
Her body was not charred, Ward testified.
The second-degree burns on her body were the result of being in a super-heated environment, not the result of direct contact with the flames, he said.
Ward testified that after conducting her autopsy, he ruled that Kinsela's death was homicide, but that his ruling was based on reports by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“They said it was arson, so I said that would make it, by definition, a homicide,” Ward said.
“Of course, if the ATF reports and tests, it turns out, are not good, that would change the manner of death,” White said.
“That is correct,” Ward said.
White's expert witnesses in fire safety sciences, testified that the fire investigation did not meet “the standard of care” required by such investigations.
Icove criticized investigators' collection and preservation of evidence.
Icove suggested that investigators had tailored their examination of the evidence to a theory they'd already composed – that Kinsela killed his wife by setting the shed on fire.
Icove testified said preserving the scene was important, so that independently, another expert can reconstruct the investigation to arrive at the same conclusions, or not.
“It preserves the integrity of the investigation,” Icove said.
If evidence is not properly collected, stored and tested, the resulting conclusions could be on shaky ground.
“It undermines the entire process,” Icove said.
Dr. Vytenis Babrauskas testified that he believed investigators had ignored or dismissed too early possible sources of a flash fire, including a computer tower and small refrigerator inside the shed.
By not testing the same makes and models of those machines, the test results were faulty, Babrauskas said.
Wilkins tried to undermine their testimony by having the consultants admit to being paid to give their opinion in this case and in other cases.
Icove alone had already earned more than $12,000 in connection with this case at his $350/hour rate, Wilkins said.