By GARY POPP
A Clark County jury found Jeffrey Alan Weisheit guilty on all counts after nearly two hours of deliberation Tuesday following a trial that spanned more than two weeks.
Weisheit, 37, was found guilty of two counts of class A felony murder and one count of class A felony arson.
He was arrested April 10, 2010, after he set fire to his Evansville home and killed his then-girlfriend’s two children, Caleb Lynch, 5, and Alyssa Lynch 8, who were in the home.
The guilty verdict could send Weisheit to death row in the Indiana Department of Corrections following the results of sentencing proceedings, which are scheduled to begin today.
The trial was held in Clark County because of the media attention surrounding the case in Vanderburgh County.
Much of the trial seemed to teeter on whether or not the jury would be convinced Weisheit committed the arson.
Although the prosecution’s case, delivered by Vanderburgh County Deputy Prosecutors Gary Schutte and Charles Berger, boasted a long stream of witnesses that included several fire officials, it did not prove the cause of the fire.
The home burned virtually to ground, and if accelerants were used, they either burned away completely or were washed away by the thousands of gallons of water used to extinguish the blaze.
Weisheit’s court-appointed attorney Michael McDaniel, of New Albany, impressed upon the jurors throughout the trial, “Without proof of arson, there is no murder conviction.”
Circumstantial evidence provided by Schutte and Berger ultimately bridged that gap for the jurors, however.
Against the recommendation of his attorney, Weisheit testified in his own defense Monday.
He told the jurors how he was watching the children while their mother worked a 12-hour shift at a plastic manufacturer 40 minutes away the night of the early-morning fire.
He said Caleb Lynch was argumentative when he told him to go to bed and that he responded by binding the child’s hands with duct tape, stuffed his mouth with a 12-inch-by-12-inch dish cloth and placed tape over mouth before leaving the home in his Chevrolet Camaro.
He said there was no fire in the home when he left.
Weisheit explained from the witness stand that he wanted to get away for only a day or two to escape the stressful situation at home.
He was picked up hours later after authorities tracked his OnStar-equipped Camaro using the assistance of OnStar employees.
Throughout the trial the issue of railroad flares found in close proximity to Caleb Lynch was discussed frequently.
The child’s charred remains were found with a flare stuffed into his underwear, and several flare fragments were found under his body after the fire was extinguished.
Alyssa Lynch’s body was found in what had been a closet of the home.
Weisheit said he had brought the flares into the home, but had not given them to the child or come into contact with them at the time of the fire.
During his testimony, Weisheit said the flares were possibly placed near the boy’s body by first responders in an effort to “stage” a fabricated scene.
While McDaniel has said Caleb Lynch was possibly playing with the flares, and that is why they were found next to his body, Schutte said during closing arguments Tuesday morning, “It is not physically possible that he put those flares there. We know Caleb didn’t' do it. He's 5 years old. He couldn't move.”
Weisheit not only denied setting the fire himself, he said he didn’t believe the fire was intentionally set at all.
He told the court, he believed it was his own faulty electrical work that caused the blaze.
Schutte said it was absurd for Weisheit to have suggested the home somehow went up in flames on its own at the same time he had hog-tied Caleb Lynch. Weisheit removed all his own belongings from the home, including more than $4,000 in cash, and was taken into custody after a vehicular pursuit that exceeded speeds of 100 mph and ended in Covington, Ky., where he was apprehended.
Following the verdict, Schutte told News and Tribune and other Evansville-based media outlets that he and Berger were happy to find the truth and provide justice for the Lynch family.
“It is a measured victory,” Schutte said of the guilty verdict. “We wish we could do more, but to be able to take some step toward justice on behalf of the family is something that is rewarding.”
He said it was a privilege for the Office of the Vanderburgh Prosecutor to tell the story of people who can not speak for themselves.
“It has been a long road, but we are thankful that the jury saw the evidence the way they did and reached the verdict that they did,” he said.
Schutte explained that the trial will now enter its penalty phase where attorneys will have the opportunity to offer aggravating and mitigating circumstances that will help the jury determine the appropriate sentencing.
He said jurors will be asked to consider a length of prison time, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole and the death penalty.