Firefighters took the stand in the trial of Del City father Tuesday, describing a horrific scene at the RV fire that killed his three children.
Christopher Dunham is facing child neglect and drug-related charges in the deaths of his three young children in January 2011. The children were trapped in a burning RV parked in the backyard of a Del City home.
The state called several witness Tuesday. John Sheehan with the Del City Fire Department said there was an explosion in the RV that destroyed the body of Caylee, the 1-year-old girl. He said it was very disturbing and hard to see.
One juror was seen wiping away tears during Sheehan's testimony.
Diana Cagle, a former neighbor of the Dunhams, was called to the stand. She testified she once saw the children running in the street chasing their dog. She said it was cold outside because it was February, and the kids were not wearing coats. She also testified she occasionally smelled marijuana smoke coming from the house.
Angela Newman, a child welfare specialist with the Department of Human Services (DHS), also testified for the prosecution. She had contact with the Dunhams in September and October of 2010, and was told the family was living with Christopher Dunham's mother. She said she spoke with Dunham and he admitted he rarely took care of the children because he worked. She said Dunham also voiced concerns about his wife doing drugs, specifically meth.
Prosecution witness Jeremiah Hoffstatter with the Del City Fire Department was called to the scene the day of the RV fire. He testified he had to break a window at the back of the camper to get inside, but it was impossible to see anything because of all the smoke. He said firefighters used a thermal camera to find the children. The first body they located was that of Christopher, who was near the bathroom door of the RV.
In his opening statement, the prosecutor said Christopher Dunham cared more about doing drugs than caring for his children. He said the children lived in dangerous conditions; there were drugs nearby, trash littered the home and a propane tank sat on top of the toy chest.
The prosecution warned the jury they would see graphic, disturbing photos from the scene. According to autopsy reports, the children died of thermal burns and smoke inhalation. The youngest child, 1-year-old Caylee, was found in the front seat of the RV, while her brother, Christopher, and sister, Crystal, were found in the back of the RV.
The prosecutor said Dunham's wife, Stephanie, gave several stories about how the fire started. She said she went into the house to get water and was only gone for a minute when she smelled smoke. She said she ran back into the RV and crawled around, trying to find her children. But the prosecutor said a police investigation determined Stephanie never made it inside the burning RV. Evidence showed the door was locked, and firefighters said they had to kick in the door when they arrived.
Stephanie Dunham tested positive for methamphetamine just after the fire. She was four months pregnant at the time. She has already entered a blind plea and will be sentenced in July.
During his opening statement, defense attorney Robert Sisson said Christopher Dunham was a hardworking man who took care of his children. He said all three children were happy and well fed. Sisson also pointed at that while Dunham worked as a wrecker driver, he passed all his work drug tests. He said his client admits to smoking marijuana, but says he did not take meth.
Sisson said the fire is undoubtedly a tragedy. The defense team believed it was started by a space heater. Sisson called it an accident that could have happened to anyone, not a case of child neglect. The defense team plans to call its own expert to testify about what caused the fire.
During cross examination, Dunham's attorney asked if any member of the fire department ever asked Christopher Dunham to take a drug test. The major admitted they did not, but said he confessed to using meth and marijuana and that he was not at the scene at the time of the fire.
They talked about resolution 921, which is the scientific method by which fire investigations are handled. It is the guideline by which firefighters go by in conducting their investigations.
After being grilled by Dunham's attorney about the RV, the Major got emotional and said, "No kid should have ever been staying in that RV in those conditions."
He also testified, "I couldn't imagine kids were left alone in there in those conditions."
The sixth witness, Medical examiner investigator Mark Harrison, testified about the causes of death of the three Dunham children. He said both older children probably died of smoke inhalation, whereas the youngest, Caylee, burned to death and said her body was charred to the bone.
Christopher Dunham could be seen blinking back tears during the investigators testimony.
Seventh witness, detective Joe Sterling with Del City police, testified about the blood test that was given to Stephanie Dunham at the hospital to test for drugs.
Eighth witness, Darryl Jeffries, a forensic investigator with the OSBI who testified he found traces in her blood.