Thursday’s session saw a return to the witness stand of Fire Investigator Michael Ling of Unified Investigations & Sciences. Wednesday afternoon, Ling was questioned by Assistant Iowa Attorney General Coleman McAllister who is prosecuting the case. Thursday it was defense attorney John Rigg’s turn to cross examine the investigator. Under cross examination, Ling told jurors that the evidence of the pattern on the floor of the building indicates flammable liquid was used, based upon the fire’s timeline and what he called “arc mapping”.
The prosecution then called two Sheldon women who had been inside the building as customers early on the evening of the fire. The first testified that she arrived at Buddz’s at, or shortly after 5 pm that day. She said she ordered onion rings, and shortly before 6 pm, noticed a burning smell. She said she left the business sometime between 6:20 and 6:25 pm.
The second customer called to testify stated that she arrived at Buddz’s at about 5:10 that afternoon, and upon entering the parking lot, noticed an employee of the business cleaning a grate of some kind. She told jurors that at about 5:30 pm she noticed a strong odor that she described as “like an incense smell”. She said the smell got stronger, which caused her to get nauseated. She testified that the business’s bartender apologized, saying they had “burned something really bad”. The witness said she left Buddz’s at 6:21 pm, and made the approximately 10 minute drive to her home. She said that when she arrived at her home, her daughter received a text message from a friend stating that Buddz’s was on fire.
Then McAllister called a manager from the Washington Avenue Casey’s store in Sheldon, who provided a video from her store’s surveillance system that showed the defendant, Kristina Manasil and her employee Adam Sickles, entering the convenience store at 6:37 pm, and leaving at 6:39 pm.
McAllister then called a mother and daughter that lived in a house just north of Buddz’s at the time of the fire. The mother testified that she went outside the home shortly after 6 pm to smoke a cigarette, and witnessed the defendant and Sickles walking to their car. She said that, at that time, she saw nothing out of the ordinary, and before returning to her home, had a brief conversation with a Buddz’s employee who was cleaning a grate in the parking lot. She said that she went back into the house, and went upstairs. Shortly before 7 pm, she told jurors, the home’s lights flickered. She said she looked out the upstairs window of her house and saw smoke coming from the Buddz’s building next door. She stated that the Sheldon Fire Department was already on scene by that time.
The daughter testified that she had been outside with her mother, and had also witnessed Manasil and Sickles leaving the business. She says she remained outside after her mother reentered their home, and saw the Buddz’s employee who had been cleaning the grate, leave on his bicycle.
Both mother and daughter told jurors that, at the time, they thought it strange that the Buddz’s parking lot was completely empty, and the business closed, at that time of the evening.
Manasil is being tried on charges of 1st Degree Arson and Insurance Fraud in connection with the blaze that destroyed the business nearly two years ago.
Information on previous sessions of the Manasil trial can be found here.