For the first time Friday, a Boone County jury heard the voice of Mehrdad Fotoohighiam. The Columbia businessman is on trial for allegedly paying an employee to burn down an occupied home but has not testified so far.
The prosecution played recordings of conversations between a former employee and Fotoohighiam. What the jury heard was the sound of an enraged man pounding on a hard surface to emphasize that it shouldn’t be very hard to persuade a woman to fake an affidavit that would shift the blame for the fire from one of his employees, James Hall, to a man named Scott Christopher.
Louis Spano, who met Fotoohighiam in the Boone County Jail and worked for him briefly after his release, took the stand Friday. He testified that Fotoohighiam wanted him to give money to Hall to burn down Marcia Green’s mobile home while she was inside. Hall was an employee of Fotoohighiam at the time.
Spano recorded his conversations with Fotoohighiam with a tablet and a recorder.
In audio recordings of those conversations played for the jury, Fotoohighiam can be heard raising his voice in frustration and striking something, saying that Jennifer Wilson “is just one woman. It shouldn’t be that hard.”
Wilson was living with Hall when the home burned down. She testified Thursday and said Hall told her that his boss offered him $500 to start a fire. Fotoohighiam wanted her to be persuaded to change her story.
Spano also testified about Fotoohighiam’s further efforts to get people to forge affidavits pertaining to the fire at Green’s home.
He told the jury that he saw a “van of people on drugs with beers cans rolling out of it” near Fotoohighiam’s office and that these people were going to be paid to sign false affidavits.
At the time he was working for Fotoohighiam, Spano had charges pending against him. But Spano told the courtroom that he was “first off, looking out for myself.” That was why, he said, he recorded his conversations with Fotoohighiam.
The defense asked to play another full recording of Spano’s, but large parts of it were inaudible, leading Judge Steven Ohmer to express his frustration with the pace of the trial. After dismissing the jury for lunch, the judge voiced his displeasure to the counselors.
“We’re going to be here until the cows come home,” he said. “This is absurd.”
After lunch, the jury heard about another hour of tape. It was also muffled and largely inaudible.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Monday.