Expert says Welton blaze deliberately set

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2002

PALMER (AP) -- Whoever set the blaze that killed 14-year-old Samuel Welton nearly two years ago left a clear trail, according to an independent fire investigator.

John Glenn, a former Anchorage firefighter who runs his own investigation company, testified Monday in the murder trial of Suzette Welton. Glenn told jurors he found where someone had poured gasoline or another flammable liquid in the hallway outside Samuel's bedroom and that of his older brother Jeremiah.

But while Glenn, hired by State Farm Insurance to investigate the Sept. 15, 2000, blaze, is convinced the fire was set, he couldn't answer the key questions in the case: Who did it and why.

Prosecutors charge that the boys' mother, Suzette Welton, 38, started the fire so she could collect $100,000 life insurance policies on her two sons. Defense attorneys say one of the boys either accidentally or deliberately set the fire.

Jeremiah and his younger sister Bree, age 16 and 6 at the time, escaped their burning home.

Glenn spent about three hours on the witness stand, much of it giving a primer to jurors on the science of fire investigation.

While to the untrained eye the inside of the duplex, shown in pictures, looked like nothing more than a jumble of charred beams and debris, Glenn found clear clues. He pointed out a pattern of burn holes in the upstairs floor that seemed to leapfrog down the hall and into bedrooms occupied by Samuel and Jeremiah.

The gaps showed where the fire had burned intensely compared with the adjoining area, he said, and were consistent with someone pouring a flammable liquid on the floor.

Much of Glenn's testimony echoed that of a state deputy fire marshal, who also concluded the blaze was arson.

Like the fire marshal, Glenn collected floor and carpet samples and sent them to a lab, which was unable to find any trace of gasoline or other accelerant. But, he said, lighter fuels like rubbing alcohol or white gas, which is used in camp stoves, can often burn off completely in a fire or evaporate. The fuels can also be washed away by water.

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