Prosecution rests, Iryn Meyers' defense begins

BATH — The prosecution rested and Iryn B. Meyers' defense attorneys called their first two witnesses Friday as the second-degree murder and the first-degree arson trial of the 38-year-old defendant approached its final stages.

Defense attorneys are expected to call two more witnesses on Monday — one a fire science expert who will testify that the cause of the Feb. 15, 2016, blaze on New Galen Road in Wayland that claimed the life 60-year-old David N. O’Dell cannot be determined.

On Friday morning, prosecutors finished up their case, first presenting cell phone mapping expert Ci Ray’s testimony. Ray’s testimony followed much the same way it did in May, when he was a witness in the first-degree murder trial of Joseph Meyers. A Steuben County jury convicted Joseph Meyers in May of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and two counts of first-degree arson. He was given a 23 years to life sentence. 

Ray, a former police officer and investigator in Arizona, founded ZetX in 2014. The company provides analytical and mapping services for cell phones, tracking the movement of devices, accessing data supplied by service providers, during key time periods in criminal cases. That data in this case was obtained from Verizon, and covered the days and final hours leading up to the fire.

Ray testified that a cell phone associated with Iryn Meyers traveled three times between between 11:30 p.m., Feb. 14, and 12:50 a.m., on Feb. 15, 2016, from the area of Loon Lake Services (where she and Joseph Meyers resided) to the area of 9458 New Galen Road, where a fire killed O’Dell, 

A cell phone belonging to Joseph Meyers had powered off around midnight, according to Ray. The final two cell phone traces in those early morning hours are on Iryn Meyers’ device only, Ray told the jury.

Ray overlaid his cell phone mapping with surveillance video from Joseph Meyers’ businesses. The surveillance video, which was seized in the execution of a search warrant, appeared to closely jibe with the movement of cell phones, showing a vehicle with both Joseph and Iryn Meyers inside leaving that area at the same time that cell phone records detect the devices moving.

“At 12:10 a.m. the video shows the vehicles leaving (Loon Lake Services). Again, we are going to see (phone movement), but only Iryn’s phone is being tracked. That (phone) gets in very close proximity of the (New Galen Road) residence,” Ray testified.

At 12:44 a.m., “We are going to see (cell phone) movement back toward New Galen Road,” Ray said.

“At 12:50 a.m. it appears that Iryn Meyers’ device is in very close proximity to (…. New Galen Road),” Ray testified.

Twelve minutes later, just before 1:03 a.m., Ray told the jurors, “We are seeing movement again” from Iryn Meyers’ cell phone. The surveillance video shows Iryn Meyers’ vehicle arriving back at Loon Lake Services at 1:17 a.m., matching cell phone tracking that shows her device returning to that area, Ray said.

Authorities believe the fire was intentionally set around 1 a.m. A passerby reported the house was fully engulfed in flames, with most of the structure burnt to the ground, at 4:40 a.m., Feb. 15, 2016.

Ray acknowledged that his analysis tracks devices, not people. He also testified that he can only say that the cell phones were in the area of O’Dell’s home. The technology is not able to pinpoint their exact location, although Ray said he has seen accuracy within one meter from the tracking system.

After Ray testified, Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker recalled Steuben County Fire Inv. Joseph Gerych to the stand. Gerych testified that there was an ample supply of propane in a tank at the New Galen Road property, more than enough to fuel the large propane heater on the first floor of the residence.

The defense and prosecution have differed over whether a wood-burning furnace in the basement of the home or the propane heater in a first-floor living room were utilized as the main source of heat for the residence.

Both Gerych and a state fire investigator testified that the wood-burning furnace appeared essentially inoperable, with no fragments of recently burned wood present and a chimney that appeared clean and unused. The wood-furnace survived the fire intact. It was first looked over and photographed at the scene and then was removed from the property by a state investigator.

State Fire Inv. James Ryan testified last week that he believes the fire was “incendiary,” set intentionally in the basement with an “ignitable liquid.” He said burn patterns were visible on the outside wall of the basement furnace.

Defense attorneys began presenting their case after Judge Joseph W. Latham “rejected in its entirety” a defense motion to dismiss the 11-count indictment against Iryn Meyers. David Hoffman argued that prosecutors had failed to present “prima facie” evidence on each of the counts, which also include attempted insurance fraud, insurance fraud, conspiracy, and filing a false written statement. Iryn Meyers has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Latham ruled the prosecution had met that minimal burden of offering prima facie evidence to the jury, noting that he is required by law to review the evidence in a light “most favorable to the people” at this stage of the trial.

Both of Friday’s defense witnesses testified about the wood-burning furnace. Wayland resident Kevin Saxton testified that about two weeks before the fire he saw “smoke coming out of that chimney,” referring to the chimney that was attached to the wood-burning furnace in the basement.

Saxton also testified that around 2011 or 2012, he offered David O’Dell $16,000 for his New Galen Road property. The deal would have given O’Dell life-use of the house, so he would have remained in the home. Saxton said O’Dell did not accept the offer.

According to earlier testimony in the trial, O’Dell did eventually sell the house and property — in 2015 to Iryn Meyers for $8,000, while retaining life-use. Prosecutors say O’Dell received a one-time payment of $400 from Iryn Meyers, but did not get any more of the $8,000.

The second defense witness Friday, Drew Ackerman, testified that he rented a room in the New Galen Road house for “three to six months” in the winter of 2014-15. Ackerman testified that the wood-burning furnace was the primary heating source for the house, claiming that David O’Dell would frequently go down into the basement, where he would start up a wood fire in the stove.

Ackerman testified about the condition of the house, telling the jury it was unkempt, dirty, with junk and other debris strewn around the property. Ackerman said O’Dell’s space heater “ended up lighting one of my couches” on fire.

But Ackerman seemed to slip up in his testimony, telling defense attorney Hoffman and then Baker during cross examination that there was no large, propane heating system in the living room of the home.

Numerous witnesses in both the Joseph Meyers and Iryn Meyers trials have testified about the presence of the propane heater, telling the juries that it was installed prior to 2012 and used as the main heating source for the house.

After insisting at least twice to Baker that the house did not have a propane heater in the middle of the living room, the district attorney lashed out.

“Are you testifying that there was not a large, propane furnace right in the middle of the living room?” Baker thundered.

“Yes. I forgot. I'm sorry. There was,” Ackerman answered.

Also during the cross examination, Ackerman said he frequently saw Iryn Meyers at the house, noting that her husband, Joseph Meyers, was his “landlord.” Ackerman said he paid rent to Joseph Meyers, although the jury has heard testimony that the house at this time was still owned by David O’Dell.