MIAMI COUNTY —The first day of a two-day jury trial began on Tuesday for a Piqua man accused of arson.
Richard Bryant Jr., 39, entered a not guilty plea to an indictment charging him with one count of fourth-degree felony arson.
According to police reports, a witness saw Bryant allegedly setting fire to the garage on purpose using lighter fluid around 1 a.m. last December at 825 Boal Ave., Piqua.
Damage to the siding and roof of the garage was estimated to cost more than $3,000, according to Piqua police reports.
Miami County assistant prosecutor Janna Parker said the victims, relatives of Bryant, relied on the kindness of strangers who alerted them of the fire in the early morning hours of that December evening.
“We ask you to hold the defendant accountable for his actions and find him guilty,” Parker said in opening statements.
Defense attorney Steven King pointed out several flaws with the state’s witness testimony to come. King said Bryant was cooperative with officials, had no logical reason to intentionally set the fire, and carried a Bic lighter on his person because he is a smoker. King also noted one witness heard “voices” — plural — around the time of the incident. King added that one witness can provide an alibi for Bryant’s whereabouts that evening.
King said the defense believes the trial jury will find his client not guilty due to the lack of evidence.
Tuesday’s witness testimony included Piqua Fire Department’s Cletus Hawk, firefighter and fire investigator, who determined the fire was purposely set with a liquid accelerator at the scene. Soil samples sent to the state fire bureau for investigation also tested positive for accelerators such as charcoal lighter fluid.
Defense attorney Steven King asked Hawk if any tests were done from the contents of a nearby trash can, and Hawk stated no tests were conducted.
The homeowner and relative to the defendant, Larry Bryant, also testified in court. Larry stated he was woken up by someone banging on the door around 1 a.m. on Dec. 12, informing him his house was on fire. He and the young man who woke him up attempted to extinguish the flames with a garden hose.
King asked Larry if his nephew had any reason to commit the offense, which Larry answered, “He had no reason to set my garage on fire.”
Larry’s wife, Erica, also testified in court. She recalled Richard attending a recent get-together for a family member’s passing and said there wasn’t a history of an ongoing dispute or conflict between them.
Witness Eric Haas claimed he saw a person on a bicycle with whitewalls, wearing dark clothing with white background on the pants around the garage area. Haas said he at first believed the person was attempting to start a recreational fire as he watched the alley from his back porch as he smoked a cigarette. He claimed the person near the garage rode a bicycle near his home away from the fire. It wasn’t until he heard sirens that he knew the fire had been intentionally set, Haas said.
Officer Sean Stein came in contact with Richard Bryant, who fit the description of the person of interest while on patrol following the reported incident. Stein said Bryant appeared highly intoxicated. Officer Stein said Bryant stated he had passed out for “15 hours” in a nearby church parking lot and was riding home. Stein recovered camouflage gloves and an orange Bic lighter from Bryant’s black, gray and white camouflage pants.
Witness testimony will continue Wednesday in the Miami County Common Pleas Court with Judge Christopher Gee presiding.
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