Woodgrains arson trial starts Monday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 5, 2002

A massive 12-day jury trial for the fire at Woodgrains Furniture in downtown Albert Lea will start Monday.

The store owner, Bryan Purdie, is accused of setting the fire in December 2000 to collect insurance money. He denied all the charges: one each of first-degree arson, second-degree arson and insurance fraud.

Fifty-five potential jurors will be in the courthouse Monday for the jury selection. More than 50 witnesses are on the list submitted by each party. Exhibits by the prosecutor alone exceed 200 items.

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In a pre-trial hearing Friday, the court discussed motions entered by both defense and prosecution attorneys.

Defense attorney Stephen Erickson asked to suppress a presentation by a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab specialist regarding detailed data of the test on samples taken from the fire scene.

The test result was negative for establishing the use of accelerant, which is one of the requisites of the first-degree arson. Prosecutor David Walker will assert that the accelerant would have evaporated in the intense fire. But Erickson is concerned that the testimony about the test data would create biases.

Erickson also asked for a walkthrough at the fire scene with the jury. Walker objected that the store has been under the control of the defendant for a long period, and some changes were made. &uot;What’s out there now is very different from the fire scene,&uot; he said.

Other concerns placed on the table includes testimony by a financial expert for the prosecutor who will present Purdie’s financial situation; an electric engineering specialist, also for the prosecutor; and Purdie’s family members for the defense.

Presiding judge John Chesterman deferred his ruling to Monday or later, possibly after the trial starts. If granted, the jury will visit the fire scene, located just a block away from the court, before listening to the testimony by witnesses.