News and Tribune

June 14, 2013

Kids’ tragic deaths detailed

Witnesses say boy and girl were badly burned in murder case

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE —

On the last day of the prosecution’s presentation in the Jeffrey Weisheit double-murder trial, jurors were given gruesome details of the children’s deaths by a pathologist who conducted their autopsies. 

Weisheit, 37, of Evansville, is charged with setting fire to his own home in 2010 while his then-girlfriend’s two children, Caleb Lynch, 5, and Alyssa Lynch, 8, were in the house. The story was covered so heavily in Vanderburgh County that the case is being tried in Clark County, where an untainted jury could be found.

Jury selection began July 3, and a week later Vanderburgh County Deputy Prosecutors Charles Berger and Gary Shutte began their presentation. Their final witness was Dr. Elmo Griggs, who conducted the autopsies of both children. Griggs said he determined both children died from asphyxiation of smoke and soot. 

During his testimony, the jurors where shown pictures of children’s remains that included deep-tissue charring.

“The bodies of the children were burned, basically, beyond recognition,” Griggs said from the witness stand.

He said both children also suffered carbon monoxide levels more than 70 percent, later saying carbon monoxide becomes fatal around a level of 50 percent.

Alyssa Lynch’s body was found in what had been a closet of the home in a pugilistic position, “like a boxer,” Griggs described, adding her position was similar to other fatally burned victims.

Caleb Lynch’s remains were found on his bed with his arms, legs and mouth bound by duct tape. His body was found in what Griggs described to the jurors as a “hog-tied position.”

Griggs said because Caleb Lynch’s mouth was covered with tape, he had inhaled enough soot through his nose it had reached his lungs.

Forensic dentist Barbara Wells — who examined both of the children’s remains to confirm their identify through dental records — also testified Thursday.

She examined Caleb Lynch first, as his body was pulled out of the burned home hours before his sister.

Wells said after she carefully removed the duct tape from his face, “soft-white skin” was revealed in contrast to the blackened body. A cloth had been placed into Caleb Lynch’s mouth before the duct tape was applied.

She had initially assumed the cloth was a small wash cloth, but discovered it was closer to a 12-inch by 12-inch hand towel, she said. 

It had been stated earlier in the trial that several roadway flares, or portions of flares, were found in the immediate area of Caleb Lynch’s body.

But, during Griggs’ testimony, he said one of the flares was found in Caleb Lynch’s underwear, and that he concluded it had been lit prior to his death. Griggs said from the stand that he determined with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that both children were killed as the result of a homicide.

Following the day of trial, Weisheit’s court-appointed attorney Michael McDaniel, of New Albany, said his client was guilty of neglect and abuse of the children, but not setting the fire that killed the Lynch children. He said he believes Weisheit — who was watching the children in his home while their mother was at work — bound Caleb Lynch with duct tape and left the home before any fire had been set.

Weisheit was arrested in Covington, Ky., about four hours after the authorities were alerted of the fire.

McDaniel said Weisheit has a history of running away and suddenly leaving an area to drive for days at a time when he feels highly stressed.

During the prosecution’s presentation, none of the investigators or fire officials who testified were able to say how the fire was started or where in the home it originated. If an accelerant was used, it either burned away completely or was washed away by the water used to extinguish the blaze.

While McDaniel doesn’t claim to know the cause of the fire, he said he doesn’t think it’s related to arson.

“We just don’t think [the prosecution] is over the hump on proving an arson” he said. “If there is no arson, there is no murder.”

He added that Weisheit lacks the motive to burn down his own home.

In regard to the flares found on and near Caleb Lynch, McDaniel said it is the defense’s position that the child was playing with the flares when the fire broke out in the home.

He said Weisheit had brought the flares into the home earlier in the day as he was preparing to use them for a job doing railroad work.

The trial was scheduled to continue today at 9 a.m. in Judge Daniel Moore’s Circuit Court No. 1 and is planned to adjourn for the day at noon.