Clark grand jury to get Winchester couple's arson case

WINCHESTER — A Clark County grand jury will hear the case of a Winchester couple charged with arson in the Dec. 17 fire of the house they rented.

After a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Clark District Judge Earl-Ray Neal found probable cause that Debra and Anthony Poole set the fire that displaced them and their seven children.

After hearing the testimony, Neal said the case warranted a more severe charge of first-degree arson rather second-degree arson. And he rebuffed defense requests by attorneys Timothy Despotes and Lauren Clark to lower the $20,000 bond on each Poole, choosing instead to increase the bonds to $50,000 cash on each defendant.

Winchester police and fire investigators were unable to determine an exact cause for the fire, but witnesses testified Wednesday that there was no evidence that accelerants such as gasoline had been used.

However, Maj. Greg Beam, an investigator with the Winchester Fire Department, testified that two Poole children interviewed by a social worker said they saw a space heater burning on a couch when they ran downstairs to leave the house on East Broadway.

The parents told investigators they had reported hot electrical outlets to their landlord. But Beam said the outlets were investigated and found to be in good condition; indeed, no outlet showed evidence of burning or charring, and no outlets were near visible burn patterns.

Winchester police Capt. James Hall said a dispatch center recorded a hang-up call from Debra Poole at 3:48 a.m. That was followed by another hang-up call at 3:53 a.m. that was apparently placed by a son of the Pooles. Finally, at 3:53 a.m., there was a call from Debra Poole reporting the fire.

Hall said an officer driving a cruiser in the neighborhood saw the Pooles standing outside their house but no one in the family flagged him down. Instead, it was only after the officer turned the car around and inquired what was wrong that the family told him that there was a fire.

Clark County Attorney Brian Thomas briefly alluded to another "allegation" that the Pooles previously had been displaced by a fire in West Virginia, but no testimony was heard on that.

After the Winchester blaze, Hall said the Pooles received a paid stay at a local motel and a $1,500 credit card from the American Red Cross. They also received food and clothing. Numerous cash donations collected for the Pooles by their church were not given to them, Hall said.