Defense Direct Examination of Ashton Bellows

1. Can you please state your full name for the court?
Ashton Bellows
2. How old are you Mr. Bellows?
I’m 30 years old
3. Where do you live?
I live in Thunderbird Illinois
4. Are you employed Mr. Bellows?
Well, until the fire, I co-owned the pub with Lane O’Brien.
5. How long have you known Mr. O’Brien?
Since we started the pub eight years ago.
6. Can you explain what your duties were at the pub?
I was a bartender and general manager. I would just try to make sure that everyone was comfortable and felt welcome.
7. What were Mr. O’Brien’s duties at the pub?
He worked as a general manager too. We shared all of the responsibilities of owning the pub.
8. Did you and Mr. O’Brien have any employees?
Yes, we had employed Whitney Grey for the past __ years.
9. Now I want to ask you about the pub itself. Can you please describe the layout of the pub for me?
From the bottom up, there was a sub-basement with the furnace, then the basement where Lane and I each had an office. Then there was the main floor, where we had the bar area and tables. Finally there was a balcony.
10. What was the outside structure of the building made of?
Brick.
11. And the inside?
Unfortunately, mostly old wood all over. Wood floors, wood paneling, wooden stairs. The bar and stools were also made of wood.
12. Were there windows?
Oh yes, many. There were windows in the basement, on the main floor and in the balcony area.
13. Was the pub insured?
Of course – no smart business owner would not insure the property.
14. For how much?
We had originally insured the place for its appraised value, $300,000. When Lane started moving his family’s valuable antiques into the place, I suggested that we increase the insurance to $500,000. Lane agreed that it would be a good idea.
15. Had you made any improvements outside?
Yes, we had a patio area and a grill.
16. Was the grill gas or charcoal?
Charcoal – our customers liked that old-fashioned taste of true grilled hot dogs and brats.
17. How did you light the charcoal?
With a charcoal lighter that we kept outside near the grill.
18. I want to focus for a minute on the basement area of the pub. What did you use it for?
Well, as I said, Lane and I both had offices down there, and we also stored all of the pub paper goods in the basement.
19. Did you use your office often?
Not for several weeks before the fire. As I stated before, Lane had been stripping some old family furniture that he wanted to use to improve the pub’s décor, so I had been avoiding the basement area.
20. Why was that?
Lane was using stripping compounds to refinish the furniture. That stuff is highly toxic and very smelly.
21. Were you or Mr. Grey involved in the furniture refinishing?
No, not at all.
22. Did the smell get into the pub?
No, Lane always made sure to open the windows in the basement so that the fumes would not get into the pub proper.
23. What duties did Mr. Grey perform at the pub?
He was a jack of all trades – helped out at the bar and grill, did maintenance work – whatever we needed.
24. Did Mr. Grey’s maintenance duties include outside work?
Both Whitney and I maintained the small lawn we had. We used a lawn mower that Lane would bring from home.
25. Who provided the gas for the mower?
Lane would get the gas from the station, but we both would refill the mower when it needed gas.
26. Now I’d like to direct your attention to the night of the fire. Do you remember that night?
How could I forget it? It was the 4th of July and the start of this whole rotten business.
27. What were you doing the night of the fire?
I was working at the pub. Business was brisk until the fireworks started around 9:00. We had the grill going.
28. What time did you leave that night?
Around midnight.
29. Who closed up?
I took care of the cash register while Whitney and Lane cleared up. I remember Lane went downstairs to check on that area.
30. What did you do then?
I told Whitney he could leave early. I told him/her that Lane and I would lock up and set the alarm.
31. Did Whitney leave then?
Yes.
32. What did you do?
I left shortly after Whitney.
33. Where was Lane when you left?
He was still at the pub.
34. Who set the alarm?
Since Lane was the last to leave, I assumed he did.
35. What were you doing after you left the pub?
I went straight home.
36. Then what happened?
Lane O’Brien called me very early on the morning of the fire telling me to get down to the pub quick.
37. What was happening when you arrived?
The pub was engulfed in flames.
38. Was Whitney Grey at the fire?
Yes, he was there also.
39. Did you talk to Mr. Grey at the fire?
Of course. Whitney was very concerned about losing his job. I told him not to worry -- that I’d help him find something. He smiled gratefully.
40. Mr. Bellows, at the time of the fire, did you intend to keep operating the pub?
No I didn’t. I had grown tired of the long hours, and so about six months ago I had asked Lane to buy me out.
41. How did he respond?
He asked me for a year in which to gather the funds.
42. Do you know whether he’s made any progress in that regard?
Not that I’ve heard of.
43. Mr. Bellows, have you been accused of a crime in connection with this fire?
Yes – unbelievably I’ve been charged with helping to set the fire in order to get the insurance money.
44. How were you first so accused?
By my former partner, Lane O’Brien, when we were watching the pub go down in flames.
45. Were you in debt at the time of the fire?
Absolutely not – I had almost $100,000 saved, and no dependents.
46. Mr. Bellows, did you ask Whitney Grey to set the pub fire for the insurance money?
Absolutely not. I did not need the money, and Whitney would not have done such a thing even if I had asked him. This entire situation is ludicrous, created out of a hysterical delusion of my former partner.
[BE PREPARED FOR REDIRECT ABOUT THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN GREY AND BELLOWS REGARDING GREY’S EARLIER CONVICTION FOR SETTING FIRE(S). I DON’T THINK WE NEED TO BRING IT UP ON DIRECT SINCE THE JUDGE WILL ALREADY HAVE HEARD ABOUT IT DURING THE PROSECUTION’S CASE. WE CAN REHABILITATE WITHOUT MUCH OF A PROBLEM ON REDIRECT.]