Investigator: Fire that injured woman was started on couch
Published 7:03 am Thursday, November 10, 2022
Investigator testifies against defendant’s explanation for fire
A longtime Minnesota State Fire Marshal fire investigator testified Wednesday in Freeborn County District Court that the fire on Seventh Street in December 2021 that injured a woman was intentionally started on a couch in the living room.
Ron Rahman said the evidence he found at the scene, at 116 W. Seventh St., was consistent with someone throwing an ignitable liquid on someone laying on the eastern portion of the couch in the room and then starting that person on fire.
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The evidence came during the second day of testimony in the jury trial against Logan Michael Netzer of Albert Lea, who faces one count of first-degree assault for allegedly lighting a woman on fire inside the house on Dec. 22, 2021. The house also ultimately caught on fire and was determined a total loss. The woman, Kristin Anderson, sustained third-degree burns to her hands, as well as burns on other portions of her body.
Netzer’s lawyer, Tayler Rahm, has argued that Netzer was not the one who started the fire and that instead it was Anderson, who he has stated shook a jar with ignitable liquid in it after she went into a rage after Netzer called her his wife’s name. He said Anderson got some of the liquid on herself and then started on fire when she went to light a tote of belongings on fire.
When asked directly by Assistant Freeborn County Attorney Abigail Lambert if this theory was consistent with what he found, Rahman responded, “No.”
Rahman said somone who had napalm thrown on them while laying on the couch would likely have suffered burns on their hands while trying to get up or while trying to get their clothing off. They could potentially have burns on their the neck or face. The victim would also likely have injuries from getting soot into their lungs. Testimony previously showed Anderson had soot around and in her mouth.
Rahman talked about the process he takes to investigate a fire and said he begins on the outside of the structure, looking at damage and then looks at the surrounding area before assessing inside. He said he was able to eliminate other causes, including electrical and natural gas causes. He also noted that a burner on the stove was found on, but he found that did not contribute to the fire because damage was not present to show this.
He said the living room “stood out terribly” from the rest of the house for the most damage received and pinpointed the fire origin to the east section of a three-section sofa, where there were only springs remaining. There were no accidental ignition sources in that area.
Netzer’s lawyer question whether Rahman believed the couch to be straight or L-shaped, as depicted by Anderson in a diagram she drew of the living room of the house. Rahman said he did not find springs where the short part of the L would be.
Rahman said he used a hydrocarbon detector to test for any vapors from an ignitable liquid coming off the floor and did not find any. If any could be found would depend on where and how much of the substance was poured. He said if the substance was poured on top of the couch, it could be possible that the vapors from the ignitable liquid vaporized before reaching the floor.
Kristin McDonald, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, who specializes in fire debris analysis, said she analyzed the clothing worn by both Netzer and Anderson to see if there was ignitable liquid residue present and to determine what kind of liquid that residue came from. All cases go through a full technical review by another scientist to make sure the same conclusions are reached.
McDonald said Anderson’s sweatshirt tested positive for gasoline and Tetrahydrofuran, a common solvent in PVC primers and cement. She also tested some of the cloudy material with a plastic feel found on the sweatshirt, and that tested positive for polystrene, a substance found in styrofoam.
Her tank top also tested positive for gasoline and Tetrahydrofuran, and her bra tested positive for gasoline and ethanol.
McDonald said she was not surprised the Tetrahydrofuran was not found on the bra as it evaporates quickly. If a substance was thrown on Anderson it may have evaporated before it reached the inner layers of clothing.
Netzer’s T-shirt tested positive for gasoline and acetone, a common solvent found in nail polish remover, and the jar with a liquid that was seized from Netzer’s bookbag in the house also tested positive for gasoline. A bottle of acetone was found in the bookbag as well.
McDonald testified that homemade napalms are substances made when people mix together different chemicals to make a substance that will stick to a target. Most of the time, they are made with gasoline and styrofoam, and the gasoline will dissolve the styrofoam, leaving a gel-like substance that she said would leave more damage.
Law enforcement testimony
Albert Lea Police Department Officer Megan Evers, who was with Anderson when she responded to the house and also went with her to the hospital, testified of what she saw that morning of the fire and statements Anderson made to her.
She said when she first arrived at the fire the morning of Dec. 22, 2021, there was a large amount of black smoke and flames visible. A firefighter over the radio had said there was an injured person in the detached garage.
She noticed the person, identified as Anderson, in the back corner of the structure, being treated by a firefighter. Evers said she could hear her saying she was scared and talking about how much pain she was in.
The skin on Anderson’s left hand was starting to peel off. Evers said she and others were worried about rings Anderson was wearing that would need to be cut off.
Evers said she told Anderson to hold her hand with her other hand and to squeeze it when she was feeling pain.
She said she initially asked Anderson what happened, and she said Anderson looked up at Netzer who was nearby but didn’t say anything. She said Anderson would periodically look at Netzer, who was behind the officer with no obvious sign of injury.
Later, in a whispered voice, Anderson said, “He started me on fire.”
Evers said she was taken back by the statement and asked the woman if Netzer had done it to her and questioned her more. She said the woman told her he threw a mixture on her and that they weren’t getting along at the time of the incident.
She said they were in the house when the fire started, and noted that she had quickly removed her pants that were on fire and left them in the house.
Evers described Anderson as coherent, able to follow a conversation and answering questions with appropriate responses.
Later, when Evers spoke to Anderson at the hospital, she told the officer they had been in the living room when the fire started and had gotten into an argument because he called her another woman’s name. She said he threw a mixture on her and then lit her on fire with a large green butane torch.
Evers said Anderson told her she rolled on the ground to try to get the fire out, took off her pants and then ran out to the detached garage where she put on different pants that were in the garage. She told the officer that Netzer got the mixture from a backpack.
The officer said at one point while at the hospital, Anderson’s mother called, and she said Anderson could be heard telling her mother “he started me on fire” and telling her about the pain she was in.
Evers said the woman, who smelled like gasoline, told her Netzer had not injured her before but had threatened her.
Anderson told her she did not remember if Netzer said anything when he reportedly threw the mixture on her but it seemed like he didn’t care.
Portions of body-worn camera footage from Evers’ camera during the incident were also shown to the jury. The footage showed Anderson crouched down in the garage and crying right after the fire. At one point, she could be heard saying, “I never thought he’d do that to me.”
Netzer’s lawyer, Tayler Rahm, questioned Anderson’s statements to Evers and pointed out that Anderson responded that she did not know the answers to many of her questions. He questioned Anderson’s lack of details about the incident but pointed out that she knew a lot of details about some things, such as the torch she said was used to start the fire.
Evers said from her training about interviewing victims of traumatic incidents, it can be common for victims to remember details later on, that’s why detectives often interview some victims days after their assaults. She said her training has also taught her that assault victims may not always be able to give a linear response.
The officer said though Anderson admitted to using heroin earlier in the morning, she did not seem impaired.
Albert Lea Officer Dan Schmitt, who previously spent time as a medic in the Army, and Sgt. Jason Taylor also testified about what they witnessed the morning of the incident.
Detective David Miller talked about evidence investigators seized, including a yellow backpack from the kitchen that contained a sock over a quart-size Mason jar with a gel-like liquid substance inside, as well as soaked pieces of cloth, a cell phone case, a Ziploc bag with a rolled up packet of tinfoil, a clamp and nail polish remover.
He said outside the house in a planter box they found a xylene container and a propane tank. In the garage they found pieces of styrofoam.
Miller said he interviewed Anderson a week and a half after the incident from Regions Hospital, where she told him Netzer had “doused” her with the contents of a jar and then used a green propane tank with an ignitable clip top to start her on fire.