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Defense in Columbia arson trial attacks ‘botched investigation’

The defense attorney questioned the integrity of the investigation into an alleged 2014 arson Monday, the sixth day of a Columbia man’s trial on accusations that he orchestrated the fire.

The trial against Mehrdad Fotoohighiam began last week. Fotoohighiam is charged with first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, but this trial is only on the arson charge.

He is accused of paying an employee $500 in December 2014 to set fire to Marcia Green’s home. A jury acquitted the employee, James Hall, in July 2018. Green was awarded more than $2.75 million in a civil case last September for her injuries and damage to her property.

Philip Groenweghe, a special prosecutor brought in from St. Charles, called to the stand Columbia Police Department Det. Steven Wilmoth, an arson investigator who worked on the Fotoohighiam case.

Wilmoth said he was the lead investigator for the case, but worked on a team during the investigation.

Groenweghe played a tape of an interview between Fotoohighiam and Wilmoth that occurred before Footohighiam was arrested.

The audio of the video was difficult to hear over the speaker system, and the defense attorney, Scott Rosenblum, objected anytime Groenweghe tried to clarify what was staid on the video.

During Rosenblum’s cross-examination, he attacked the investigation by the Columbia Police Department, asking several questions about why police did not investigate Green.

During Rosenblum’s opening statement Wednesday, he said this case started out with a “completely botched investigation.”

Rosenblum also continued to scrutinize the credibility of the witnesses and reports being presented in the trial.

The prosecution called its final witness Monday afternoon, followed by the defense calling 3 witnesses, all aiming to discredit the previous witnesses who testified perviously.

Closing statements are expected to start tomorrow. The judge said today the arguments could wrap up tomorrow.

Judge Steven Ohmer, a visiting judge from St. Louis, is conducting the trial in Boone County.

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