Daughter to stand trial in fire that killed father | News
Linda Crowder testified Tuesday that Tiffany Lukasiewicz and Elizabeth Baez did not like her because they thought she was abusing their father.
Both of David Crowder’s 40-year-old twin daughters had threatened her in the past, she told a courtroom at the preliminary hearing of Lukasiewicz on second-degree murder charges in the death of the defendant’s 68-year-old father.
Linda Crowder’s recounting of the house fire the night of Dec. 4 that took her husband’s life was instrumental in getting Lukasiewicz ordered to stand trial at the conclusion of the hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court.
Joplin’s city fire marshal and three detectives testified at the hearing that there was probable cause to believe the fire at 1730 S. Picher Ave. was a case of arson and that the defendant and her sister set the fire in a plot to assault their stepmother.
The alleged plot went horribly wrong as Linda Crowder attested at the hearing.
According to her, the twins’ belief that she was abusing their father was mistaken. Some injuries he had suffered to his face were caused by a fall he’d had in which his head struck a table, she said.
The stepmother told the court that she woke in the middle of the night, got up to go to the bathroom and noticed a chair in the living room was on fire. She hurried into the kitchen to retrieve a fire extinguisher but could not find one and was reduced to a hapless attempt to put out the fire with water carried from the kitchen.
She testified that, as the fire began spreading out of control, she yelled for Lukasiewicz, who had been staying with her father and her for a few weeks, to get David up and out of the house. He suffered from dementia and often had difficulty walking, especially when he had been drinking, which he had been doing that night, she said.
She recalled seeing the defendant come out into the hallway with her father and seeing him fall to the floor as Crowder ran to her bedroom to get her phone to call 911. She told the court she thought Lukasiewicz might even have pushed him to the floor.
She recalled seeing from the bedroom moments later that Lukasiewicz was outside with her sister, but David was not with them. She realized he had been left inside. She tried to make her way to him as the fire began raging and flashed over her, leaving her with third- and fourth-degree burns to her face, hands and arms, she testified.
She spent 12 weeks in the hospital and underwent three skin grafts, she told the court. She never made it to David Crowder, and he eventually was pulled from the burning house by firefighters and taken to the hospital where he died.
Dale Brooks, city fire marshal, testified that he found two points of origin for the fire, one of which was in the living room. He could not find any natural or accidental causes and concluded that the fire was a case of arson.
Brooks acknowledged under cross-examination by defense attorney William Fleischaker that testing has not detected the presence of any accelerants in samples taken from the scene. But he believes the fire was set because “it’s pretty hard to have two accidental fires at the same time,” Brooks told the court.
Detective Wes Massey testified that he interviewed Lukasiewicz three times in the week after the fire. He said she initially suggested the fire might have been caused by the clutter or animals in the home but in subsequent interviews acknowledged having asked a friend to get a man residing in the basement out in advance of the fire and having contacted her sister about a prior domestic incident involving their father and stepmother.
Prosecutor Theresa Kenney called Detective Chip Root to testify that the defendant told him when he interviewed her in jail Dec. 10 that she “had suspected her stepmother of assaulting her father and that she was sick of it.”
She acknowledged that she had contacted her sister about her suspicion, Root said, and in a second jail interview the next day identified Baez as the one who actually started the fire, he said. She told him she and her sister broke a window to enable her to escape the fire.
According to the detectives, a backpack belonging to Lukasiewicz was found outside the bedroom window of the room she was staying in.
“I don’t believe she told me how Elizabeth started the fire,” Root said.
The detective testified that she told him that Baez went outside to start the fire and moments later ran past her window, telling her she needed to get their father out. Lukasiewicz claimed the plan was not to try to kill the stepmother but to drive her out of the house where she could be assaulted.
Her sister had informed her that she’d recruited two other women to assist in assaulting her once she emerged from the house. But Lukasiewicz admitted to him that she had some doubts about the veracity of what Baez had told her about anyone else being involved, Root said.
The twin sisters are charged with second-degree murder, first-degree arson and first-degree domestic assault.
At preliminary hearing April 26, Baez was ordered by Judge Jerry Holcomb to stand trial in the case. Judge John Nicholas ruled at Tuesday’s hearing that there was probable cause for Lukasiewicz to stand trial on all three counts as well.