UPDATE: Case against arson suspect declared a mistrial

2 years 1 week 1 day ago Thursday, February 15 2018 Feb 15, 2018 Thursday, February 15, 2018 7:17:00 PM CST February 15, 2018 in News
By: Caroline Peterson and Claire Kopsky, KOMU 8 Reporters; Steve Lambson, KOMU 8 News Content Manager
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COLUMBIA - The case against suspected arsonist James Hall has been declared a mistrial since the jury could not reach a verdict.

Thursday night the judge said he will make a decision on the next steps in a few days.

The jury heard closing arguments from both sides Thursday afternoon in the trial of a man accused of starting a fire at a mobile home while a person was inside.

Prosecutors brought nearly a dozen witnesses against the 41-year-old Hall.

Witness Jennifer Wilson, who first reported Hall had set the fire, testified he told her his employer offered him money to do the job. Wilson said Hall referred to his employer as "Mike," who prosecutors have identified as Mehrdad Footoohighiam.

Prosecutors say Footoohighiam hired Hall to burn the trailer because he wanted the property and had been "fighting" with the woman who lived there.

Wilson said Hall told her he planned to use a container full of gasoline to set the mobile home on fire and returned to their shared residence smelling of gasoline and with singed eyebrows. 

Wilson said Hall later started to "freak out" when a news report showed the home was occupied at the time of the fire. She said Hall thought the home would be empty.

Two witnesses associated with Footoohighiam also testified Thursday. Moayad Rawi worked for him and visited him in jail. Rawi said Footoohighiam wanted Rawi to pay Hall, but Rawi said he refused and reported the incident to police. 

Another witness, Scotty Christopher, said Footoohighiam asked both he and Hall to set the mobile home on fire, but he refused. 

Prosecuting attorney Philip Groenweghe heard from more witnesses late Thursday afternoon.

Thomas Ellis, Hall's former attorney, confirmed a note outlining Hall's instructions to handle attorney fees with Footoohighiam.

The detective on the case from the Columbia Police Department, Steve Wilmoth, identified the business card Groenweghe presented as the one he found when Hall was arrested.

During closing arguments, Hall's attorney Samantha Green argued there was reasonable doubt.

“We heard from Marsha Green herself, Marsha Green said it best, that Mr. Footoohigham didn’t ask to buy her lot before the fire, he didn’t have harsh words with her and he didn’t do anything that scared her before the fire so as to the why, we don’t have any evidence on the why,” she said. “So I would ask you to find James Hall not guilty because as you deliberate, I believe you will have reasonable doubt.”

Groenweghe spoke with passion as he addressed the jury for the final time. 

“Focus on the arson of the first degree, instruction 5, that’s what this guy did, that’s what this guy deserves to be held accountable for. That’s what nearly lost Marsh Green her life,” he said. “And you need to send people a message that that isn’t going to be tolerated here in Boone County. That is not how we treat our elderly, that’s not how we treat anyone, that isn’t how we would treat a dog. Find him guilty. Thank you.”

The jury is currently deliberating the case.

Footoohighiam is currently awaiting trial on charges of trying to orchestrate the murders of his wife, who is seeking divorce, and the judge in the arson case.

[editor's note: this story has been updated with the latest information on this case.]

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