Convicted of 2nd-degree murder, 1st-degree arson for murder of David O'Dell
BATH — A Steuben County Court jury took just three hours Tuesday to convict 38-year-old Iryn B. Meyers of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree arson for the murder of David O’Dell in Wayland last year.
The convictions on seven total counts were announced in a soft but firm voice by the jury forewoman at 4:50 p.m., exactly three hours after deliberations began.
Phillip O’Dell, David O’Dell’s older brother, leaned over the courtroom rail, raised his hands toward the panel, and said thank you several times after the verdicts were read.
Iryn Meyers left the courtroom hurriedly, accompanied by sheriff’s deputies. She paused at a courtroom exit long enough to hear Judge Joseph W. Latham announce that she will remain held without bail.
The jury also returned convictions for insurance fraud, attempted insurance fraud, conspiracy and making a false written statement to New York State Police. The 12 jurors were polled individually by a court official, each answering “yes” when asked if they agreed with the verdicts.
Tuesday’s verdicts marked the culmination of several months of investigation by New York State Police, Steuben County and state fire investigators and the Steuben County District Attorney’s Office into the fire death of the 60-year-old O’Dell, who was killed when his house burned to the ground in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, 2016.
After a two and half week trial in May, Joseph Meyers was found guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson, criminal conspiracy and several lesser charges for the the death of O’Dell, a long-time friend and employee of Joseph Meyers at Loon Lake Services in Wayland. Joseph Meyers was sentenced in July to spend 23 years to life in state prison.
A sentencing date has not been set for Iryn Meyers. She faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison for the second-degree murder conviction. Her sentence on the arson counts must run concurrently with the murder sentence because the crimes were related, court officials said.
Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker praised the law enforcement investigation, saying it set the tone for the case.
“This was a law enforcement-driven case from minute one,” Baker said following Tuesday’s verdicts. “It would have been very, very easy for a less dedicated group to write this off as an accidental fire on the coldest day of the year, started by a faulty wood stove. That’s what Joe and Iryn were hoping for, and that would have been very easy, but things didn’t smell right to the New York State Police, and the right lights went on, and they took the time and the effort into collecting the evidence that ultimately led to the conviction.”
Latham scheduled post-verdict motions for Sept. 27. Co-defense attorney Brenda Smith Aston said the convictions will be appealed.
“We respect the jury’s verdict, but we are disappointed,” Aston said.
Defense attorney David Hoffmann told the jury in his final summation that prosecutors had fallen short of proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Hoffman noted the complexity of the case, and he suggested that even though prosecutors introduced more than 100 exhibits, their case left many questions unresolved.
“This is not a contest to see how many exhibits they can introduce,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffman zeroed in on the fire investigation, especially the work of state Fire Inv. James Ryan. Hoffmann said proper fire investigation procedures require the investigator to first establish the cause and origin of the fire, then consult with criminal investigators about outside evidence of arson. Hoffmann said Ryan did his work the other way around, as he determined that the fire was set using a liquid accelerant in the basement of O’Dell’s home.
Hoffman also hit at motive, saying there was no evidence introduced by the prosecution that Iryn Meyers placed a claim on any of the insurance policies connected to the case. According to trial testimony, Iryn Meyers was the beneficiary on policies covering David O’Dell’s life, the New Galen Road house, and her possessions in the house.
“There is no evidence of any claim,” Hoffmann said.
Insisting that the prosecution failed to prove those counts, Hoffmann told the jury, “You are not required to prove his case for him.”
But the prosecution said the motive was money, arguing that Iryn and Joseph Meyers were desperate for cash to pay for a new tow-truck business for him and a new home for her. In his final argument, Baker said Iryn Meyers had taken out insurance policies worth more than $170,000, including about $125,000 on the house and Iryn Meyers’ possession inside the residence.
“Money, that’s why they burned the house down,” Baker said to the jury.
He said Iryn Meyers admitted as much in two "confessions" to police investigators about a month after the fire.
It was an emotional day, both for the defendant and the O’Dell family. During Baker’s summation, David O’Dell’s badly charred remains were shown on a large projection screen.
“Oh my God,” exclaimed Phyllis Reamer, David O’Dell’s sister, who was sitting in the first row of the courtroom’s spectator section.
Later, after the jury had received final instructions on the law from Latham and begun their deliberations, Iryn Meyers whispered “I’m scared,” to defense attorney Aston.
After the verdict, Baker spoke about the significance of the day.
“Our job here is to prosecute the case, but the goal here was to get justice for David O’Dell.
“When we got the conviction on Joe Meyers, obviously that was important. Joe was charged with the intentional murder piece. We were pleased with that verdict. The family was pleased, but we felt the job was only half done because of the fact that the evidence we had showed that Iryn Meyers was very involved in making this happen, and without her, this crime doesn’t get committed.”
Baker also talked about the differences between the two murder trials and the different approach by the prosecution team. Assistant District Attorney Jim Miller also worked on both trials.
“The first case was purely circumstantial, and we were proving it against the person who had actually set the fire and had done something to David to make him stay in that house,” Baker said. “We had bits and pieces that led to that conclusion.
“With Iryn Meyers, we had the same collection of evidence, but we also had her statement which, though inculpatory, also tends to dump most of the real responsibility back on Joe. She keeps saying, ‘Joe did this and Joe told me to do that,’ and basically she doesn’t take any responsibility for being actively involved in the plan.
“So though her statement was helpful, we also had to prove that she was far more actively involved than she told the state police she was in making this happen.”
Prosecutors said Iryn Meyers bought the former O’Dell family home from David O’Dell for $8,000, but he retained life-use as long as he did not move out.
“From what we saw as evidence, there was some hope that they could drive David from the house, or maybe by taking his meds away from him, by doing some other things, that maybe he would burn the house down and kill himself as part of this process,” Baker said. “Those things weren’t happening.”
According to Baker, a key date was Dec. 11, 2015. That’s when Joseph Meyers asked two Wayland town officials to declare the house unlivable.
“The reality of that was driven home by their effort with the health officer and the code officer to get him out,” Baker said. “And they found out they weren’t going to get David out, and the worst news was that the house wasn’t worth anything, that it was a tear-down. And I think that’s when things were cemented.
“That’s when they begin sort of more aggressively putting out there the rumors about David hearing voices, he’s going to burn the house down.
“I think that was the tipping point. If there was some vacillation, if they were waffling at all, when they found out that house was worth no money and they were not going to get David out of it, that’s what put this thing in motion, and it wasn’t going to stop.”