In this Evening Tribune special web report, Neal Simon details the testimony of one witness in the Iryn Meyers murder trial — State Police Inv. Brent Bernard
Iryn Meyers Trial
Mrs. Meyers is charged with second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson, conspiracy, attempted insurance fraud, insurance fraud and filing a false written statement. Meyers, a native of the Philippines, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and is currently on trial in a Steuben County courtroom.
State Police Inv. Brent Bernard. On Feb. 15, 2016, Bernard was a New York State Police investigator assigned to the Wayland, N.Y. barracks.
Why he’s important
Bernard was the first law enforcement official to interview Iryn Meyers following the fire on New Galen Road that took the life of 60-year-old David O’Dell, a friend of both Iryn Meyers and her husband Joseph Meyers.
Based on what Iryn Meyers told Bernard, she was subsequently arrested for making a false written statement.
Also, Bernard did not testify in Joseph Meyer’s trial, which resulted in Mr. Meyers’ conviction for first-degree murder and arson.
Bernard on the stand
The investigator testified Monday before the Steuben County criminal trial jury. During direct examination he was questioned by Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker, and he was later cross-examined by Brenda Smith Aston, one of the two defense attorneys for Iryn Meyers.
Bernard testified that after arriving on the fire scene at approximately 9 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2016, he was told by his boss, Senior Inv. Curtis Eaton, to interview Iryn Meyers.
Bernard said Iryn Meyers was one of the few civilian bystanders at the fire scene that morning, and the intention of his interview was to learn what she knew about the victim, when she had seen him last, and to ascertain if she had any knowledge about what may have led to the fire.
According to Bernard, the pair went into a State Police vehicle to conduct the interview, as the temperature outside was frigid, hovering near 10 degrees. Bernard said the printer in the police cruiser would not print the deposition correctly, so he suggested they go to the barracks in Wayland to complete the interview. He drove them both to the barracks.
Bernard testified that Mrs. Meyers was not a murder suspect and was free to leave or decline to answer questions at any time.
Iryn Meyers Statement
According to Bernard’s testimony, Iryn Meyers said “I have no idea how David’s house burned down.”
She explained that she had been living at the O’Dell house for a few months, helping to take care of David as she and her husband were having marital difficulties. She said she had feared David was a danger to the house and himself, mentioning that he previously left clothes on a space heater, which had started a small fire.
Iryn Meyers told Bernard that she got off work at Finger Lakes DDSO around 11 p.m. She said she and Joe had some leftover pot roast, “cuddled for a bit” and eventually drove the couple miles to O’Dell’s house to pick up a bathing suit, as they wanted to pay a visit to Logan’s Inn and use a hot tub.
They started off for Logan Inn’s but decided to call ahead from the road. A call to Logan’s Inn from Iryn’s phone was placed at 1:08 a.m. During the call, the couple learned the hot tub was closed, so they went back home for the night, according the statement.
Bernard testified that Joseph Meyers was being questioned at the same time as his wife, but by another investigator. After comparing the couple’s two accounts, investigators were left unsatisfied.
“A lot of little things were not matching up for something that took place (just) eight or nine hours earlier,” Bernard testified.
According to Iryn Meyers’ deposition, her husband received a phone call from one of O’Dell’s sisters at approximately 8 a.m. on Feb. 15. The sister told Mr. Meyers that her brother’s house had burned down. He told her he would drive over and see what was going on.
At approximately 8:30 a.m., according to Iryn, her husband called her and told her David O’Dell’s house had burned down.
In her opening statement last week, Aston suggested to the jury that investigators made up their minds almost instantly, focusing on arson and Iryn and Joseph Meyers with “18 minutes.” Questioned by Smith about the purpose of his interview with Iryn Meyers, Bernard denied she was a target of the investigation at that point.
“We were investigating a fire,” he said.
Under questioning by Aston, Bernard acknowledged that not everything Iryn Meyers said between about 9 a.m. when the interview started and 2:20 p.m. when the deposition was signed was included in the final statement.
Aston asked Bernard if he was “picking and choosing” what to include. He responded that the final deposition was all the “pertinent information that was gleaned.”
What will the jury think?
Inconsistencies in Iryn Meyers’ statement, the prosecution says, were exposed later when law enforcement personnel seized a video surveillance system from Joseph Meyers’ residence. For example, surveillance video appears to show the couple getting in a car and pulling out of the property at about 7:30 a.m., on Feb. 15, 2016. They come back about ten minutes later and re-enter the residence.
The prosecution believes they made a quick trip to check out the fire damage, prior to the 8:30 a.m. call when they purportedly first heard about the fire. Also, there is no mention in Iryn’s statement to Bernard about this 7:30 a.m. incident.
Not so fast, the defense says.
“Did you ask her if she had been to the fire scene earlier?” Aston asked Bernard.
He said he did not ask her that question.
“She told me where she had been,” answered Bernard.