Mehrdad Fotoohighiam’s future remains in question, at least for one more night.
The jury in Fotoohighiam’s arson case entered deliberations after the defense and prosecution offered closing arguments around 1:40 p.m. As of the Missourian’s print deadline Tuesday, the jury was still deliberating on whether or not Fotoohighiam is responsible for arson that destroyed Marcia Green’s trailer home in December 2014.
Fotoohighiam allegedly paid James Hall, his former employee, $500 to burn down Green’s home. Hall was first tried for first-degree arson in February 2018, which resulted in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a decision. He was acquitted in a retrial five months later.
Fotoohighiam’s defense attorney, Scott Rosenblum, went on the offensive during closing arguments, attacking the investigation into the fire that burned down Green’s home. Rosenblum was part of the defense team that defended former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens after he was indicted on a felony charge of invasion of privacy in 2018.
“It is repugnant. It is beyond the pale. It is the worst investigation you can imagine,” Rosenblum said. Investigators from the Columbia Police Department did not send out a gas can collected from the scene to test for accelerants, according to Columbia Deputy Fire Marshal Tim Bach.
Rosenblum then turned his attention to the credibility of the witnesses who shaped the investigation and the case against his client, referring to them as “a parade of con-artists.”
“Would you let (them) be responsible for anything important in your life? The answer has to be ‘No,’” Rosenblum said.
Jennifer Wilson, a witness for the state, is “the cancer that infected (this case),” Rosenblum said. Her statements to investigators had been used in the probable cause statement that eventually led to the warrant for Fotoohighiam’s arrest.
Rosenblum also challenged the credibility of Louis Spano, another witness for the state, charging that Spano is “nothing but a con man, and a bad one at that.”
Spano was hired by Fotoohighiam as a sales representative after Spano was released from jail. According to the state’s opening arguments, Fotoohighiam “recruited” Spano to help secure a false affidavit from Wilson.
After targeting the credibility of numerous witnesses over the course of his closing argument, Rosenblum concluded by imploring the jury to “do what’s right. Send (Fotoohighiam) back to his family.”
In the state’s rebuttal, Special Prosecutor Philip Groenweghe referred to Rosenblum’s characterization of the saga as a “vast, grand conspiracy,” before saying that the witnesses couldn’t conspire their way “out of a wet paper bag.”
“Even the people of the Flat Earth Society would say to take off your tin foil cap,” Groenweghe said.
“This man committed an arson,” he said while pointing at Fotoohighiam during closing arguments. “He can’t buy his way out of this,” Groenweghe said.
In closing arguments, Groenweghe said that “an innocent man doesn’t hide in the attic like a coward,” referencing the nearly eight-hour standoff between Fotoohighiam and police the day of his arrest.
Groenweghe was appointed as a special prosecutor after the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder against Fotoohighiam. Fotoohighiam allegedly offered money to two individuals to kill Boone County Circuit Judge Jeff Harris.
Wilson, who lived with Hall during the time the fire was set, said Hall left the apartment the night of the fire with an antifreeze container that smelled of gasoline. When he came back, the scent of gasoline was on his clothes and his eyelashes were singed, she said. She also heard him talking on the phone to a man who she believed was Fotoohighiam that evening, according to her testimony.
However, this is just one of many versions of events that Wilson has offered, according to the defense. Fotoohighiam’s attorneys attempted to discredit her testimony by asking her about her prior drug use and pending forgery charges.
Groenweghe noted in his closing argument that Fotoohighiam had also offered Scott Christopher money to help burn down Green’s trailer home.
Christopher said he initially lied in a November 2015 statement when he originally named Hall as the man who’d asked him to help burn down Green’s trailer home, according to previous Missourian reporting. He admitted during his Thursday testimony that it was Fotoohighiam who extended the offer.
While Wilson and Christopher present complex stories, neither went through with Fotoohighiam’s requests, Groenweghe said. They didn’t want to be involved in Fotoohighiam’s plan that was “hatched from hell,” he said.
Green’s home was purposefully damaged, she was put in harms way and she suffered serious injuries, Groenweghe told the jury.
“She was very lucky to survive this fire,” Groenweghe said. “She was minutes away from death.”
Green was awarded $2.75 million in damages after a jury ruled in her favor on Sept. 12, 2018.
Charges remain pending against Fotoohighiam for attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.