Prosecution Direct Examination of Lane O’Brien

  1. Please state your name for the court.
    My name is Lane O’Brien
  2. Are you employed?
    I was until the fire. I was the proud co-owner of the Bellows and O’Brien Pub in Thunderbird, Illinois.
  3. What were your daily duties in the pub?
    I worked behind the bar at times, made sure the customers were satisfied, did any necessary cleaning after the pub closed each night.
  4. You said you were the co-owner of the pub. Who else owned a stake in the business?
    My Partner, Ashton Bellows.
  5. Did you have any employees?
    We employed a maintenance person, Whitney Grey.
  6. Do you see Miss Grey in this courtroom?
    Yes, she's sitting right over there (points).
  7. Did you know Miss Grey before you hired her?
    Yeah. I knew her from around town even before we hired her. I considered her a friend. Heck, I still like her.
  8. How did she get the job at the pub?
    Ashton and I interviewed her and decided to hire her afterwards.
  9. Were you aware of the defendant’s past during the job interview?
    We knew that she had a history of starting fires. She makes a point of showing up at fires even now.
  10. Did you express any doubts about Grey when you hired her?
    Not really. She'd told us about her past and was a good worker.
  11. What was your relationship like with Bellows?
    Ashton and I are good friends. We worked well together, and I am upset that this fire ruined our friendship.
  12. What was your relationship like with Miss Grey?
    We were also good friends, we had respect for each other and we worked well together as well.
  13. Did you and Mr. Bellows have any future plans for your pub?
    Well, I hoped to keep improving it to attract more customers. But Ashton told me not too long ago that he wanted out.
  14. What do you mean when you say that he "wanted out"?
    I mean that he wanted to get out the pub business. He told me about six months ago, and asked me to buy his half.
  15. How did you respond?
    Well, honestly, I was a little upset -- I liked running the bar with Ashton and Whitney. It was fun to run your own place with friends. But I said I understood, and asked for a year to put the money together.
  16. Were you able to raise the funds you needed?
    No. With the economy down, it's hard for a small business owner like me to raise the necessary capital.
  17. Did you try to get a loan?
    No. I didn't feel like I would be able to.
  18. Did you and Mr. Bellows talk about your inability to raise the money?
    No. I tried to avoid the subject. I knew I couldn't get the money, and I thought it would just make Ashton mad if I brought it up.
  19. So why not just tell him to sell his half to another bidder?
    I know Ashton, and like I said, I enjoyed owning a pub with him. I didn't want some stranger coming in and trying to make changes to my pub. I loved that place.
  20. Did Mr. Bellows ever bring the money up?
    No. But he seemed to be getting impatient with me.
  21. Did he take any action?
    I didn't think he was going to, but when I saw him together with Whitney at the scene of the fire, I began to wonder.
  22. Would you describe the relationship between Miss Grey and Mr. Bellows for the court? Whitney and Ashton were a lot closer than Ashton and me. They were thick as thieves. They were always together.
  23. Doing what?
    Well, sometimes they just worked to come up with ideas to improve the pub.
  24. Like what?
    Well, like the grill. They were cooking brats and hot dogs for patrons. They didn't ask me about it, just started doing it. It was good for business, but honestly I felt a little left out.
  25. What do you mean, you felt "left out"?
    Well, Ashton and Whitney, they were so close. Sometimes I felt kind of like a third wheel.
  26. Were they cooking together on the night of July 4th?
    Sure. It was a nice, summer day. Great day for a barbecue.
  27. What were you doing?
    I was in the pub working and attending to the customers.
  28. Did Mr. Bellows do anything other than throw a couple of hot dogs on the grill?
    Yeah. He worked behind the bar and did some cleaning.
  29. What were Miss Grey’s duties that night?
    Whitney also worked behind the bar, served customers and did cleaning as well.
  30. Was the pub very busy that night?
    We were, right up until the time of the fireworks. Then pretty much all of the customers left.
  31. What time did the customers leave the pub?
    They left around 9 pm for the fireworks.
  32. Between you, Mr. Bellows and the defendant, who was the first to leave?
    Ashton let Whitney go home early because we didn't have many customers. Ashton went home a little bit later.
  33. What did you do after Grey and Bellows left?
    I locked up the pub like I normally do, set the alarm,
  34. Were any windows open in the pub when you left?
    No. I always make sure to close them before I go.
  35. Where did you go? I went straight to the firehouse. I go there once a month or so to play cards with the guys.
  36. What time did you arrive at the firehouse?
    Around 12:30.
  37. Did you leave at anytime?
    No. I was at the firehouse until the call came in about the fire.
  38. Is there anyone who can confirm this?
    Yeah. The fire marshal, Eaton Bahr, and a bunch of other firefighters, like Falcon Berk, were there.
  39. How did you hear about the fire at the pub?
    Well, a call came in and I heard someone saying, "Your pub is on fire."
  40. What was your immediate reaction after the call came through?
    I was pretty frantic. I ran to my car and drove as fast as I could. I even got there before the firefighters did.
  41. How did you feel about the place burning down?
    I was mad. As I watched the fire, I knew I was losing my livelihood. Plus, I had been refurbishing a bunch of family heirlooms in the basement.
  42. Would you describe these heirlooms for the court?
    It was furniture, mostly, handed down from my great grandparents. That was all I had left of them. It really broke my heart to see my family's history, along with all my hard work and dedication, destroyed.
  43. What time did you make it to the fire?
    Around 4:00 A.M
  44. How much damage was done to the pub by that time?
    The building was up in flames. Everything was burned and the firefighters couldn’t salvage anything.
  45. How much was the property valued at?
    Last time we had the property valued, the building was appraised at $300,000. Including the inventory and antiques, we lost almost $400,000.
  46. Was it insured?
    Yes. In fact, Ashton recently suggested that we raise the insurance to $500,000.
  47. How did seeing the fire make you feel?
    I was in shock. I remember the firemen doing their best to fight the fire. Eaton was there watching them, making sure they did everything they could, and he asked me a few questions.
  48. Like what?
    He asked me if we had any enemies. I said, no way, our pub was a friendly gathering place. There was no way anyone would intentionally burn it down.
  49. Do you still believe this?
    No. As I looked around the scene of the fire, I realized two people had very good reasons to set the pub on fire.
  50. Who did you see that made you re-think your stance?
    Whitney Grey and Ashton Bellows.
  51. You saw them watching the fire?
    Yeah. But Whitney would've been there even if she didn't work there. Like I said, she went to all of the fires in town.
  52. What makes you think Mr. Bellows and Miss Grey would start the fire?
    Ashton wanted out of the business. I couldn't buy it from him, and I hadn't made any effort to do so.
  53. Did you speak with Mr. Bellows at the fire?
    Yes, I said, “This is how you’re going to get your money? Insurance? You couldn’t wait?”
  54. Why did you ask him that?
    I mean, I couldn't pay him, he wanted out, and he suggested that we raise the insurance. It all fit.
  55. What led you to suspect Miss Grey?
    Look, Whitney's a nice person, but everyone knows she's the town firebug. If Ashton were to burn the pub down, he'd ask Whitney to help him. They were so close, I'm pretty sure they would've done anything to help one another out. Even if it meant burning down our pub.