PERRY -- Conflicting expert opinions marked Wednesday’s testimony in the Houston County trial of man accused of deliberately burning down his home.
Thomas Wayne McFarling, 54, was indicted on one count of arson in the March 15, 2008, fire that destroyed his home at 231 Mossy Lake Road near Kathleen.
McFarling is accused of deliberately unhooking the gas line to the fireplace and pouring an ignitable liquid on the hardwood floor and then setting it on fire. He filed an insurance claim on the house that was valued at $294,300.
But McFarling’s attorney Laura D. Hogue of Macon has mounted a defense that he and his family are living a nightmare of losing their home and all that was dear to them, including two dogs, and of McFarling being accused of arson.
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Richard Henderson, an expert in chemical analysis and fire investigation for the prosecution, testified that he found the presence of a petroleum residue naturally inherent in products used to stain and seal wood floors as well as additional petroleum residue found in products like charcoal lighter fluid.
Henderson said his analysis was based on comparing three floor samples taken from in front of the fireplace and comparing those against another sample taken from another area of the house.
Henderson said a fourth floor sample did not include the additional petroleum residue taken from near the fireplace, where the county’s fire investigator previously testified he found a pour pattern of an ignitable liquid.
Barry Slaughter, a private fire investigator that was hired by the insurance company, said he based his findings of arson on his on-site inspection and Henderson’s findings.
Slaughter testified that the fire scene also demonstrated findings consistent with an explosion after glass from the windows was found more than 45 feet away from the home. Without an explosion, the glass would have fallen on both sides of what would have been the walls of the home, he said.
Doug Byron, a forensic chemist for the defense, testified that Henderson’s findings were flawed, and all four floor samplings were “very, very similar” and showed the presence of a petroleum residue consistent with products used to stain and seal hardwood floors.
Most of the residue evaporates over time, but some seeps into the wood, which is why it shows up under lab testing, Byron said.
Henderson’s findings are in error because he did not compare samples of the same time frame, used a smaller testing strip than the accepted standard size and heated the samples being tested not long enough, Byron testified.
Jeffrey Martin Tanski, a private fire investigator with an expertise in fire origins and causes, testified there was no pour pattern indicating that an ignitable liquid had been poured on the hardwood floor because the floor was consumed.
He said what was defined as the floor is actual fire debris collected from the fire scene. What was shown to jurors in photos as the floor was actually the crawl space, he said.
Also, Tanski testified that the so-called pour pattern marked by small red flags on photos could have been caused by the stuffing from inside furniture and other furnishings as they burned and melted into liquid during the fire. As to the cause of the fire, Tanski testified it could not be determined.
The prosecution finished its presentation of witnesses and evidence Wednesday, with defense expected to call more witnesses Thursday.