DNA test ruled out in bar arson trial
A Kootenai County magistrate wouldn’t allow DNA test results to be used at a preliminary hearing Tuesday for accused arsonist Richard E. Hanlon, suspected of torching a competitor’s bar in Post Falls.
Magistrate Scott Wayman said other evidence introduced against Hanlon, though, was compelling enough to show that Hanlon, the owner of Paddy’s bars, may have set fire July 25 to Capone’s Pub and Grill in Post Falls. Wayman ordered the case be set for trial.
The crime was captured on video through Capone’s surveillance system and played in court Tuesday.
“In this case we have a very dramatic video that clearly establishes the crime of arson was committed,” Wayman said. The judge called parts of the 8-minute video “disturbing.”
First, the sounds of breaking glass were picked up. Then a person in a baseball cap and hooded shirt could be seen dragging chairs from the pub’s banquet room into the main bar and stacking the chairs like firewood.
Moments later, the video shows an explosion of fire and smoke and the person running away, legs aflame.
Hanlon, 50, suffered burns to his lower legs and wrists the same day. He told investigators he spilled hot grease on himself the morning of the alleged arson while changing the fryer grease at his Coeur d’Alene bar.
Kootenai County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Marty Raap tried to establish that Hanlon had motive to burn down Capone’s. Within months of Tom and Teresa Capone opening a pub in Post Falls, Hanlon opened a second location in Post Falls.
Paddy’s Too was struggling financially, Raap suggested. The prosecution called Hanlon’s best friend, Idaho State Police Trooper George Phillips, to the stand. Phillips said he had loaned $31,000 to Hanlon to help him cover payroll expenses for Paddy’s employees.
Hanlon’s girlfriend, Kelly Harte, testified that she went to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department out of concern she would be considered an accessory to the crime after Hanlon showed her the burns on his legs.
She said Hanlon told her and others that he spilled hot grease on his legs. Harte said he refused to seek medical attention for fear he’d be pegged as the arsonist.
“I knew they were looking for someone with burns on their legs and I knew Rich had burns on his legs,” she said. Harte said she doubted Hanlon’s innocence. “I thought he might have done it,” she said. Harte also said she and Hanlon are now engaged.
Investigators testified about key evidence found inside the burned-out bar, including a pair of burned running shoes, a lighter and a melted gas can.
Post Falls Detective Ron Gunderson said Hanlon came in to the Police Department and allowed Gunderson to swab the inside of his cheek for a DNA sample to be compared with any DNA evidence from inside the burned shoes.
Though Raap attempted to introduce the DNA lab results as evidence, defense attorney Jim Siebe objected. Because of a backlog at the Idaho state lab, Post Falls police shipped the DNA samples to a private, out-of-state lab for testing.
Siebe cited a state law that requires DNA results come from state or federal certified labs; the prosecution hadn’t established the North Carolina lab met that standard, he said. Wayman agreed and said the evidence couldn’t be considered at this point in the case.
While Raap tried to show that the two Post Falls bars were in direct competition, Siebe said that wasn’t true. Capone’s owner Tom Capone acknowledged that his bar has a reputation as being a gathering place for Democrats. Phillips concurred and said that Paddy’s was more of a Republican hangout.
After more than three hours of testimony from seven witnesses, Wayman ordered Hanlon bound over for trial in front of 1st District Judge John T. Mitchell. Hanlon remains free on bail.