After hearing five days of testimony and deliberating for nearly 13 hours, a Boone County jury acquitted Mehrdad Fotoohighiam on a charge of first-degree arson Wednesday afternoon.
Fotoohighiam smiled when Judge Steven Russell Ohmer announced the jury’s verdict in the ceremonial courtroom at the Boone County Courthouse. He turned in his chair and wagged his finger at some of the witnesses in the case who were seated in the gallery.
In the end, Special Prosecutor Philip Groenweghe couldn’t persuade the jury that Fotoohighiam paid James Hall, an employee of his firm, ETI, $500 to set the fire that destroyed Marcia Green’s trailer home almost five years ago.
Scott Rosenblum, Fotoohighiam’s attorney, tore apart the state’s case witness by witness in closing arguments.
He described one of the state’s witnesses, Jennifer Wilson, as “the cancer that infected (this case).” Her statements to investigators were included in the probable cause statement that led to Fotoohighiam’s arrest, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Rosenblum also attacked the credibility of other key witnesses and even the investigation of the fire by the Columbia Police Department.
Outside the courtroom after the trial, Rosenblum said he was “very pleased with the verdict.” The St. Louis-based attorney said that “the proof of the case never existed.”
The prosecution’s case revolved around testimony from Fotoohighiam’s various associates, many of whom said that he attempted to procure false affidavits from people in the lead-up to his trial who would shift the blame from Hall to another man.
Even testimony from Green, the victim, left questions unanswered — chiefly, about the burns on her hands that she suffered the night of the fire.
Rosenblum exploited the weaknesses in Green’s testimony about what she told law enforcement during the investigation. In closing arguments, Rosenblum pointed out how Green’s injuries could be consistent with someone who set a fire and that investigators missed the opportunity to look into whether Green herself was the arsonist.
In an interview in front of the courthouse, Green said that she was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome of the trial. “There were aspects of the trial that could be handled better,” she said, though she declined to elaborate.
Groenweghe declined to comment following the verdict.
Fotoohighiam will remain in Boone County Jail, where he has been held for nearly three years; he previously posted a $5 million cash bond that was ultimately revoked because he was deemed a flight risk. He is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, and he once left the U.S. for approximately eight years to avoid a lawsuit, according to a probable cause statement.
He still faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted first-degree murder. He is accused of trying to pay two Boone County jail inmates to kill two people: one with the initials “J.H.” and the other “H.F.” The original judge assigned to the case that ended Wednesday with Fotoohighiam’s acquittal was Jeff Harris.
According to online court records, Fotoohighiam’s wife, who sought an order of protection against him in 2016, is Hedieh Fotoohighiam.
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.