In a pretrial hearing Cherokee Village Fire Department's arson investigator Russell Tanner was discredited by the defense from being qualified as an expert witness in the case.
Tanner told the judge he was asked only to give his professional opinion of the cause of the fire, not to investigate the incident.
Defense Attorney Tre Kitchens established for the judge that the only evidence given to Tanner was by Sharp County Detective Sergeant Mark Counts, who worked the scene after the fire. The evidence was three photographs of the scene after the fire. Kitchens established that Tanner did not take the photo's, make a report on the fire or perform any type of tests for which to base his opinion on the cause of the fire. Kitchens also established that Tanner had no degree in chemistry, engineering or in combustible liquids and that he had not used the National Fire Training Academy's manual for determining the cause of the fire. Tanner stated, "I saw several things, based on my training, that would indicate multiple points of origin, one of the precursors to an arson fire."
Prosecutor Tom Grider also questioned Tanner to establish his expertise level in investigating this type of fire, although he has gone through extensive fire training and had certification as a fire and arson investigator since 2008.
Judge Erwin allowed Tanner to testify but only as a lay witness, not an expert.
In opening statements, Grider told the jury of the couple's breakup, fights that had occurred between the two, as well as charges filed for battery, no contact orders and verbal threats to her regarding burning down her home.
Grider also outlined for the jury the witnesses who would testify for the prosecution, such as his ex-girlfriend, her daughter, men he had encountered while in jail and allegedly told he would "burn the b...h's house down," a neighbor and a friend of the family, all of who would testify that Frolos had both reason and opportunity to commit the crime.
The defense explained to the jury that Frolos has never been found guilty of any of the charges related to Branam or her family and explained there was no physical or direct evidence on which to convict Frolos of burning down the trailer.
Kitchens attempted to discredit the prosecution's witnesses by explaining that two of the witnesses were convicted of felony crimes on multiple occasions.
He also said there was no formal arson investigation, other than the State Crime Laboratory returning a document saying the cause of the fire was not caused by accelerants based on tests they conducted by the material provided by Counts.
Kitchens also told the jury the defendant was in Cabot with his family the night before the fire and that both his ex-wife and granddaughter spent the entire night with him July 11.
Cindy Branam, Frolos' ex-girlfriend was the first witness for the prosecution. She testified that she and Frolos had dated for about three and a half years and had broken up in April of 2008 after he became violent on a regular basis, especially when he drank.
She told of his tendencies as well as an event where he broke her wrist, burned his truck with a torch, ran it into the house because he was mad at a dog, as well as accusing her of cheating on him.
Branam also said Frolos had injured her daughter, and would contact her sometimes60 times a day by cell phone attempting to harass her, and also violating the no contact order that had been handed down from the court after the incident in which her wrist was broken.
Branam manages a Flash Market and said she could not turn off her cell phone because the store's alarm system is set to ring into her phone in the event of a break-in.
She told the jury she went to live with her sister in Lakeview just to get away from him because she was scared after the break-up.
She said she recorded many of the conversations with Frolos for the case but the recorder was burned in the fire.
Branam emotionally told the jury of the events leading up to the July 11 fire that destroyed what Branam described as, "40 years of my life." She said she got home from her sisters house that evening and Frolos called and asked her if she was recording the conversation. Branam lied and said she wasn't. She said he called again and she knew he was aware of her being home alone.
Branam said she left the house and headed toward McDonald's in Ash Flat, where her daughter Chantel worked. She said he then called three more times while she was on the way and asked her if Chantel was at work. In the last call she said he told her, "Go ahead and go meet that guy again."
After her daughter got off work at 10 p.m., she said she went to the Flash Market at Salem and did paper work and went home around 1:20 a.m., to find what was left of her home. She said Frolos hasn't contacted her since the fire.
The defense questioned Branam for clarification about the reasons for her going to stay with her sister and said that she said it was because her sister didn't like to stay alone, not because she was scared of Frolos. Branam said the second time she went to live with her sister it was because of Frolos.
Kitchens also asked her about the value of her home and she told the jury she had lived in the house on family owned land since 1996, and after the fire $27,000 was paid to the mortgage company to pay off the home. She said she never received any money for the home or the contents she lost in the fire.
She told the jury, "I have never filed charges against him, never turned him in, the state picked this up, I want it over, I want my life back."
When asked about the reason she thought Frolos might have burned her home, Branam said, "Because he said he would do it. That is why he called that night, to make sure I wasn't home."
Tamera Hyde, Braham's sister was the second witness to testify for the prosecution. Hyde told the jury about Branam living with her after her wrist was broken.
She told the jury that she had opportunities to talk to Frolos on the phone and explained his demeanor to be from very nice to angry.
Hyde said that one time after he had called Branam several times while she was at her house, she talked to him to get him to stop calling or she would call the police. Hyde said, "If you call the police, she can kiss everything goodbye." After this, Hyde said she called the Sharp County Police Department about his behavior.
On cross, Kitchens asked where the recordings were of these conversations and Hyde said she couldn't get them, they were on Branam's voicemail.
Jesse "Crackhead Jesse" Smith, as he proclaimed his nickname, was the third witness for the prosecution. Smith testified that while in jail with Frolos he told him about his tumultuous relationship with Branam and that if he could just get out of jail he would, "burn the exes house down." He said Frolos would say this several times a day.
He told the jury he had no promises or arrangements made with the prosecution for his testimony.
On cross examination, Kitchens told the jury the state (prosecutor) is the one who revokes probation and Smith had already been revoked once and was currently on probation. He asked why he didn't tell anyone, Smith said, "Once I got out, I figured he did it." So before he was charged, he told the state.
James Houston Patterson was the fourth witness to testify for the prosecution. Grider established for the jury Patterson had been convicted of a felony four or five times. Patterson, whose cousin Oscar is married to Frolos' sister, said he came to get a weedeater from Frolos' home the morning after the fire and told Frolos about the fire.
He said Frolos told him he had spent the night in Horseshoe Bend. Patterson said Frolos told him if they came to arrest him they wouldn't take him alive. He said Frolos knew he would be blamed for the fire and asked him to call him if he saw cops when he was leaving.
After leaving Frolos' home, Patterson wrecked his vehicle after running over a turkey and was charged with DWI by the officers coming to arrest Frolos.
On cross, Kitchens asked him if he was made any promises for his testimony. Patterson said no, but attorney Starken told him the police might help him out on his DWI for talking about the event.
Frolos' neighbor Henry Ihnfeldt testified that Frolos had talked about burning Branam's home for the last few months, mostly when he was mad. He said he told Frolos, "Loving and possessing are two different things."
Ihnfeldt also told the jury that Frolos had approached him after he received his subpoena. Frolos told him he didn't have to tell what he knew. Ihnfeldt said Frolos then, in a threatening tone, said, referring to his mother's trailer, "Like, if someone saw me do something, like burn that old trailer by your house, then they couldn't prove it."
Ihnfeldt also visited Frolos while in jail and said he was asked to retrieve a "package" from the woods. He said that he found a Walmart sack in the woods near Frolos house with boots in them. Because he was busy at work and had a lot going on, Ihnfeldt put them in the car and later took them to Frolos' storage building which he had a key for, and locked them up.
On cross examination, Kitchens asked why he didn't call the police and tell them about the boots. He said he did, and also took Branam to the shed and let her get her things out.
On redirect, Grider asked Ihnfeldt why he didn't tell Frolos about letting Branam get her things before he allowed her in the shed. Ihnfeldt told the jury that Frolos would have been mad and didn't want Branam to have to deal with him before getting her things out of the shed. This was something Frolos had already told Ihnfeldt when he visited with him.
Tanner then testified about his training at the Fire Academy as well as the photos on which he was asked to give his opinion regarding the cause of the fire. Tanner said with multiple holes burned, his training suggested there was more than one heat source. He said fire burns from the bottom up, and in this case, it didn't burn consistently.
He explained why he believed the Arkansas State Crime Lab did not find liquid residue on the samples by saying it is possible the samples could have been contaminated by water from the fire department or that the samples weren't taken from an area where the flammable liquid was present. Another reason Tanner said could be the liquid evaporated in the fire.
On cross examination Kitchens asked if he was a certified training officer and Tanner said he was but only to a certain level as indicated by his certificate. He explained his training and told the jury he was only testifying in regard to possible cause of the fire. Tanner clarified to the jury that he did not conduct the actual investigation.
Sharp County Detective Sergeant Mark Counts told the jury that on July 11 he arrested Frolos for violation of the no contact order. Frolos, Counts said, was arrested at his home at Wirth. Upon the detective's arrival, Frolos ran and was apprehended shortly thereafter. Counts said he took photos and samples at the scene. He informed the jury the samples were taken from the porch where it looked like something had been spilled.
On cross examination Kitchens asked Counts questions about the interview that took place later that evening. Counts said Frolos told him he didn't do it and that he was at home watching television and drinking the night of the fire.
He also asked Counts if the suspect was tasered twice the last time he was arrested, giving him reason to be afraid and run when he was arrested that evening. Counts told Kitchens he did not know.
The prosecution rested and the defense called only three witnesses, Branam's daughter Chantel, Frolos' daughter Candy Porterfield and his ex-wife Betty Lee Davis. Chantel Branam's MySpace account and e-mails to Candy Porterfield were discussed, establishing for the defense that Branam remained in contact with Frolos' daughter as late as Aug. 28, 2009.
Candy Porterfield testified on her father's behalf, telling the court that Frolos helped her move from Cabot with her mother Betty Lee Davis and daughter on the day prior to the fire.
Candy said she had conversations with Cindy Branam and told the jury Cindy had called her since July, 2008 telling her when her father was in and out of jail as well as saying Cindy Branam told her she wasn't going to assume anything until the evidence was in.
Porterfield also told the jury that Cindy told her, "One of the cops, Brian Coble, had confessed to the crime," and the state was forcing her to testify against Frolos.
She said she has spoken with both Cindy and Chantel since last June and said it was because they were family and not all the conversations were about her father.
On cross, Grider established that Frolos had left Cabot around noon and wasn't drinking.
Frolos' ex-wife, Betty Lee Davis, also testified to his whereabouts the day prior to the fire and the night of the fire. Her story collaborated with her daughters.
She told the jury Frolos passed out on the couch at his home and she and her granddaughter slept on the couch in the same room as Frolos.
She said she had not been drinking that night and was a very light sleeper.
Davis also said that there was no way Frolos could have woke up and went through the woods to Branam's trailer without waking her. Davis did say she heard him talking during the night, perhaps to Branam on the phone.
On cross, Davis was asked by Grider if she had spoken with Branam after the fire and Davis told her that she had, but only to tell her to leave her daughter out of the situation.
The final witness was Andrew Frolos who also told the same story as his daughter and ex-wife regarding his whereabouts. He explained his neighbor's testimony regarding opening the storage shed for Branam to collect her belongings, saying that Branam gave him Frolos' torch in exchange for him opening the shed.
He said Jesse "Crack head Jesse" Smith's testimony was a lie and told the jury he did not recall telling Patterson he was in Horseshoe Bend.
He also denied speaking with his neighbor about not telling the jury what he knew and said he was lying about the accusation about burning his mother's trailer down.
Prior to the jury being handed jury instructions, council approached the bench and Judge Irwin handed down a directed verdict. Prosecutor Tom Grider explained that the burden of proof was on him and he said he failed to present the required evidence for the charges to go to the jury. Grider said that in the case of criminal mischief, fires are presumed accidental unless there is evidence proven by the law showing the event to be purposeful. Frolos was found not guilty.
Following his acquittal, Frolos was ordered to pay a $14,000 bond for seven charges of harassing communications with Branam after he violated a no contact order and contacted her from jail by cell phone.