Did a Robins Air Force Base airman conspire with Demetrius Hardy and his wife to burn down the airman’s Warner Robins home for the insurance money, or did the couple act alone?
That was crux of opening statements Wednesday in the felony murder and arson trial of Senior Airman Charles Amos Wilson III, 28, a support member of the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Hardy, 27, a civilian worker on base, died several days later from injuries he received in the Oct. 2, 2011, fire. His wife, Infini Hardy, drove him to the arson site and later to a hospital.
The military trial, being held at the Houston County Courthouse in Perry, is the first of three courts-martial proceedings against Wilson.
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Capt. Marcus Childress argued that Wilson conspired with the Hardys to torch his rented residence at 105 Spruce St. in exchange for a motorcycle and some cash from the insurance claim Wilson would file on his belongings. The men were close friends through motorcycle groups they rode with.
But Capt. Christine E. Kugele argued that the couple acted independently of Wilson in an attempt to steal from him and then cover their tracks.
After all, Infini Hardy, dressed all in black, drove her husband to the arson site and then parked their black Chevy Tahoe at a nearby park on Oak Street and waited, Kugele told jurors.
Meanwhile, Demetrius Hardy carried a back pack and a gasoline can to the arson site. The couple had filled up the gas can on the way at a station at Leverette and Corder roads.
Prosecution and defense attorneys agreed that Demetrius Hardy set fire to the residence and was “swallowed in the flames” in an explosion. He ran from the home on fire.
Attorneys also agreed that Infini Hardy drove her husband, who was still on fire, to Houston Medical Center. He died several days later at an Augusta burn center.
But the attorneys split on Wilson’s involvement.
Infini Hardy initially told authorities she had dropped her husband off at Wilson’s house to play video games at 2:30 a.m. but returned when she saw flames and found her husband on fire.
She kept to that story, or similar versions of it, Kugele argued, until she was indicted about two years later by a Houston County grand jury on two counts of arson and one count of burglary in the incident.
Then, she changed her story and implicated Wilson, Kugele said.
“The one way to get herself out of this situation is to give police Charles Wilson,” Kugele told jurors.
Infini Hardy testified Wednesday that she originally lied to hospital staff, police, her husband’s parents and military investigators “to keep us three out of trouble.”
Hardy also testified that Wilson encouraged her to lie and “stick to the story.” He later told her to stop talking to police, she said.
Hardy said she had hoped her husband would survive and that the three would never be caught. She said Demetrius Hardy had made up his mind to commit the arson because the couple needed the money. They were raising her three children.
The civilian charges against her are still pending, and no deal has been made to dismiss them in exchange for her testimony, Houston County prosecutor Dan Bibler said. She was not a member of the armed forces when the arson occurred.
In other testimony, Kyle Ake, who lived in the neighborhood where the arson occurred in 2011, said he and a friend ran to the scene and saw a man on fire running back and forth through yards.
His friend tried to tackle the man, later identified as Demetrius Hardy, in an attempt to get him on the ground to put the fire out. Demetrius Hardy jumped into a black SUV.
“I had to jump in a ditch to avoid being hit,” Ake said.
Hardy was still on fire inside the vehicle, which stopped and he got out and rolled in the grass, Ake said. Infini Hardy, who was later identified as the driver, got out and yelled at him as he rolled. She told him he was “stupid” and an “idiot” for catching himself on fire and told him to get back in the vehicle, Ake said.
However, Infini Hardy told jurors she was “just telling him to roll.”
Wiping away tears, she said her husband told her he loved on the way to the emergency room and that those were the last words he was able to speak to her.
Testimony is expected to continue Thursday. Then the trial is expected to recess until Tuesday.