Suspect's Neighbor Recalls Burn Barrel Incident Hours After Annie McSween Was Murdered
Robert Jenkins his neighbors displayed some weird behavior, but starting a fire at 5:30 a.m. was most unusual
A man who lived next to Joseph Thomas in 2010 said he observed just one curious incident in the adjacent backyard that year — a man standing over a burn barrel at 5:30 a.m. on Black Friday, a few hours after 49-year-old Annie McSween was murdered.
"I thought it was kind of nuts," Robert Jenkins, a Marine Parkway resident, said Thursday during testimony in Thomas' trial.
Lake County Assistant Prosecutor Charles Cichocki said earlier this week that investigators found the charred remains of McSween's sweater, bra, pants and purse in a burn barrel in the backyard of 5589 Marine Parkway, where Thomas lived at the time. DNA tests later matched blood found on the sweater to McSween.
Jenkins said he could not confirm that Thomas was the man standing over the fire that morning because his back was facing Jenkins' bedroom. However, when he saw Thomas' face on the news, he recognized him as a neighbor. Prosecutors also pointed out that the height, clothing and haircut of the man Jenkins described fit the suspect.
The reflection of the fire's light awoke Jenkins that morning, he said. The information technology business owner planned to go to work a few hours later. He said it wasn't unusual for his neighbors to be up late, but not at such an odd hour, and to be starting a fire in the rain.
Jenkins, who objected to photographs and being recorded in the courtroom, told his girlfriend and a few others what he saw later that day, but they all chalked it up to the neighbors' sometimes weird behavior. Jenkins said he began to connect dots in his mind in the next couple of days upon hearing reports about McSween's murder.
McSween was a bartender at Mario's Lakeway Lounge, a Mentor-on-the-Lake bar that Thomas was at the night she was killed. Her body was found Nov. 27, 2010 in the wooded area behind a house next to the bar. She was naked except for two brown tube socks, Mentor-on-the-Lake Police Chief John Gielink testified.
Daniel Winterich, a special agent for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, also took the stand Thursday. Agents were called to the Mentor-on-the-Lake police station in April 2011 to analyze the items found in the burn barrel. In addition to clothing, police found melted makeup compacts and makeup remover mixed in with the barrel's ash.
Though McSween's blood was on clothing later found in Thomas' backyard, Dr. Stephen G. Labonne of the Lake County Crime Laboratory said the suspect's DNA was not found on swabs taken from the crime scene outside Mario's.
The prosecution will call more witnesses to the stand today in Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard Collins Jr.'s courtroom.
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