WILKES-BARRE - Angered at receiving a demand for child support from his ex-wife, Jody Wayne Owens intentionally set fires inside his Gardner Avenue house in Wilkes-Barre that endangered neighbors and firefighters, a Luzerne County prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Assistant District Attorney Shannon Crake in her opening statement to the jury said Owens, 35, reached a breaking point on Aug. 18, 2011, and took a baseball bat and smashed windows, furniture and walls inside 198 Gardner Ave. before lighting the fires in three places.
Owens was unemployed and losing the house he remodeled to foreclosure. He was not going to let anyone, especially his ex-wife, enjoy his craftsmanship, Crake said.
“He went through that house like a tornado ripping it apart,” Crake said.”He did not want anybody else to enjoy his hard work he put into that house. He did not want to see her (ex-wife Cynthia Owens) benefit.”
Owens’ attorney, Charles Ross, is relying on evidence or lack thereof that investigators collected at the house.
Ross said Owens suffered a severe laceration on his hand, causing blood to spatter throughout the house.
“It’s true he was smashing the house,” Ross told jurors. “Jody Owens’ defense is etched in blood.”
Ross said no blood spatter was found in the three areas where investigators believe fires were set, including the attic pull-down ladder
Ross told jurors the fires only started when Owens’ two drunken friends showed up at the house.
City firefighters responded to the house just before 11 p.m. on Aug. 18, 2011, and quickly extinguished fires in two bedrooms and the attic. Adjacent houses were not damaged.
Joseph Unvarsky testified he had several beers with Owens on the front porch before going to sleep in his home at 196 Gardner Ave. He was awakened by sirens and grabbed a flashlight, worrying about the flames spreading to his home that is only a few feet away from Owens’ house.
“I saw him outside; he thought it was a joke,” Unvarsky said. “He asked me for a beer.”
City police Officer Stanley Wychock said he noticed a bloody handprint on the front porch, and paramedics treated Owens for a bloody hand. City fire inspector Capt. Alan Klapat said he located three places inside the house where fires originated.
Owens is charged with four counts of arson and one count each of reckless burning and failing to prevent a catastrophe. His trial before Judge Lisa Gelb continues today.