Bourbon County District Judge Mark Ward heard several motions in the case of a local man expected to go to trial for his alleged involvement in a deadly 2011 house fire during a pretrial hearing Thursday morning in Bourbon County District Court.
Motions that have been filed in recent months ranging from a change of venue for the trial to the endorsement of several witnesses were discussed during the first of a planned series of pretrial motion hearings in the case of Brent Bollinger.
Bollinger was bound over for trial following a two-day preliminary hearing in July. He faces charges of murder and arson in connection with a house fire that took place in October 2011.
Bollinger appeared in the courtroom with his attorney Paul Morrison. Both prosecutors in the case, Bourbon County Attorney Terri Johnson and Assistant Kansas Attorney General Kristiane Bryant, were also present. No trial date was set yet.
The first motion addressed dealt with the defense's request for a change of venue for the trial, which Morrison filed in September. Ward said he reviewed the motion and the state's response and there was no objection from the state to the motion. Ward deferred the motion as other motions in the case needed to be addressed first.
Another motion filed by the defense last month, according to court records, is a request to see the results of testing done by a doctor to check for prior sexual assault on Bollinger's wife, Brenna Bollinger, who died in the fire. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which assisted local authorities in the investigation of the fire, has the results from the doctor. However, the defense has not yet seen the results, which would show the victim's DNA, forensic evidence and any evidence of prior physical abuse. Ward granted the motion.
Morrison said during the hearing that these results "will drive the defendant's case."
A third motion filed by Morrison was a request to the state that the defense be given adequate notice before a jury trial of any evidence the state plans to use showing any prior abuse toward Brenna Bollinger. There were no objections to this motion, which Ward granted.
The state filed a motion to endorse 18 new witnesses for its case. Morrison did not object to the motion, which Ward allowed. The state also filed a motion, which Ward granted, asking that the defense provide a summary or written report of any expert witnesses who intend to testify at least 30 days prior to the beginning of a trial. The defense presented no objection to this motion.
The prosecution is also asking for proper notice of any audio or video evidence, and that any such evidence from the defense be identified at least two weeks before the start of a jury trial. The state also requested adequate notice of any redactions or changes to this evidence. Ward also approved this motion. Bryant said the state is trying to avoid any delays in the trial and will work with Morrison on this matter.
Another motion filed by the defendant asked to suppress statements made by Bollinger to some emergency and law enforcement personnel the night of the fire that Morrison feels will be damaging to the case and could prejudice or influence a jury.
One of the individuals who testified at the preliminary hearing was Kansas Highway Patrol Master Trooper Brad Carpenter, who was questioned again by attorneys in the case on Thursday.
Carpenter explained how he received a call shortly after 10 p.m. the night of the fire from his residence about a house fire with a white female trapped inside. Carpenter said he went to the scene on Grand Road and talked to Bollinger at the scene, who was frantic and had obvious severe burns and was screaming, "My wife's inside."
Carpenter said he asked Bollinger what happened at the scene and Bollinger said he had been cutting firewood earlier in the day and "got some gas on him" and lit a cigarette, which Bollinger said is how the fire started.
After further questioning by Morrison, Carpenter said Bollinger was "in bad shape" physically, laying still in the yard of the home with his arms raised over his head. The skin on Bollinger's chest was melted away and the skin "was sliding off his arms," Carpenter said.
Morrison asked Carpenter if Bollinger screamed that he was hurting or in pain, to which Carpenter responded that "there was a lot of commotion" at the time and he didn't remember if Bollinger was screaming due to the pain. Carpenter said his contact with Bollinger lasted about 10 minutes. After speaking with Bollinger, he left the scene and made contact with a sheriff's deputy about the incident.
Morrison told Ward the issue "is that evidence has to be absolute crystal clear how much pain Brent was in" that night. Scott Perkins, a Mercy Hospital paramedic who worked the night of the fire and testified at the preliminary hearing, drove the first emergency vehicle to appear on the scene.
Morrison said Bollinger was "out of his head with pain" when he made comments that night and was given several doses of morphine by Perkins, who has said that Bollinger was screaming that he "wanted to die." Bollinger also told Perkins his wife was in the house and told him repeatedly he was responsible for the fire while in the ambulance, before being transported to the hospital and medical helicopter. The reliability of Bollinger's statements at the time are based on his client's state of mind at the time, Morrison said.
In response, Bryant said despite the fact that he was in pain, Bollinger was alert and conscious, speaking and coherent and this "is important for the court to consider."
Ward denied the motion to suppress Bollinger's statements, saying Bollinger was capable of understanding what was happening at the time, was conscious and alert throughout his contact with Perkins, that Bollinger's statements made to Carpenter were voluntary and the communication between Bollinger and Carpenter was conducted in a fair manner. Ward also said Bollinger wasn't confessing to a crime.
Ward said the defendant had previously waived his right to a speedy trial and asked Bollinger if he chose to waive that right once again, which he did. Morrison said he anticipated further hearings on pretrial motions.
Another hearing for the next series of pretrial motions was scheduled for 9 a.m. March 6. The deadline for all motions to be on file is on or before Feb. 15, 2013.
Bollinger was arraigned before Ward in September and pleaded not guilty to the alleged crimes. The house fire took place Oct. 13, 2011. Bollinger and his young son, Bryson, survived the blaze. Bollinger remains in the Southeast Kansas Regional Correctional Center on a $1 million cash surety bond.