BATH — After a Steuben County jury took less than three hours Friday to convict Joseph A. Meyers on nine counts, including first- and second-degree murder, arson, conspiracy and lesser charges, for the Feb. 15, 2016 fire death of David N. O’Dell, it was the 60-year-old victim, not the defendant, who was the focus of a quiet, but emotional gathering in the courtroom.
Family members of David O’Dell, many of whom were on hand for each day of testimony during the nearly three-week trial, hugged and thanked Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker and Assistant District Attorney Jim Miller after the verdict was read.
“This is the reason we do this job,” said Baker, referring to the O’Dells. “The family has waited 14 months for this to happen. It’s an emotional day.
“To be able to look David O’Dell’s brother and sisters in the eye after the verdict was read, and see the relief there – to hear from them that they would tell David today at his graveside that Meyers would be held responsible – was a very emotional moment for all of us.”
“This man was burned alive,” continued Baker, who noted that he never met David O’Dell in life but feels he began to know him better as the case moved through the trial.
“He was a simple man who cared about his friends and family,” Baker said, pointing to witnesses testimony that described O’Dell as a loyal, hard-working employee at Loon Lakes Services, Joseph Meyers’ business, and a helpful, friendly neighbor on New Galen Road, where O’Dell’s home burned to the ground in the early hours of a frigid winter morning.
To understand the case, Baker said, “You had to understand that (David O’Dell) was someone who could be taken advantage of. Otherwise, it doesn’t make any sense. There was nothing here but pure malice and greed by the defendant.”
The prosecution said the motive was to collect $140,000 in insurance coverage that Iryn Meyers, Joseph Meyers’ wife, held on the house, which had been deeded to her for $8,000, her possessions that she kept in the house, and O’Dell’s life. The prosecution said Joseph Meyers helped arrange the policies, putting the murder conspiracy in motion.
Iryn Meyers is scheduled to go on trial for second-degree murder, arson, attempted insurance fraud and other charges on July 5. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges. She did not appear at her husband’s trial. Sources tell The Spectator that Iryn O’Dell’s confession to investigators, and her statement to a Steuben County grand jury, will be the key evidence in her trial.
Asked what he was feeling as he waited for the jury to reach a verdict, Baker said, “I was just hoping justice would be served.”
In his closing statement Thursday afternoon, Baker referred to prosecution testimony from David O’Dell’s closest neighbor, John Siciliano. Siciliano called O’Dell “honest to a fault” and told the jury about learning that Joseph Meyers and Iryn Meyers had taken out life insurance coverage on David.
“I didn’t smell right from the first time I heard it,” Siciliano testified.
Prosecutors offered more than 120 exhibits, including recorded jailhouse phone calls, text messages between Joseph and Iryn Meyers, video surveillance from Joseph Meyers' residence/business, Loon Lake Services, and cell phone mapping that placed the defendant and his wife at or near O’Dell’s house in the late night and early morning hours of Feb. 14-15, 2016.
The surveillance system provided video footage of the couple driving off three times toward O’Dell’s New Galen Road house, late Feb. 14 and early Feb. 15, 2016. The video appeared to show Joseph Meyers carrying an extra pair of boots and a large liquid container prior to one trip.
After the final trip, at about 1:15 a.m., Feb. 15, 2016, Iryn Meyers walks up the stairs leading to her residence with what appears to be a propane torch under her left arm. Investigators believe the fire started at about 1 a.m.
A Steuben County fire investigator could not say what caused the fire that leveled O’Dell’s home, leaving almost nothing standing. However, a New York state fire investigator testified that the fire was intentionally started in the basement and was accelerant-based.
Baker said it was a circumstantial case and he credited State Police and fire investigators for putting it together.
“From the time State Police investigators Tom Khork and Brent Bernard first interviewed the Meyers couple at the scene and found some inconsistencies in their first statements, the New York State Police, with the help of Steuben County and New York state fire investigators never let up,” Baker said. “They pursued every lead, eventually compiling the hundreds of pieces of evidence that put this case together and made this conviction possible.”
Shortly before it announced it had a verdict, the jury asked to review text messages between Joseph and Iryn Meyers, asking for the ones from late in 2015 where “they said they were through with David.”
The jury reached a verdict at 2:04 p.m. Meyers, eyes downward, listened stoically and shook his head once as the jury foreman announced verdicts of “guilty” to each count, including first and second-degree murder, two counts of arson, three counts of falsifying business records, and single counts of attempted insurance fraud and conspiracy.
Peter Glanville, who paired with Christopher Tunney as defense attorneys for Joseph Meyers, said the defense team was very surprised that the jury returned with a verdict so quickly.
“There was so much testimony that came in, and so much of it that was actually conflicting, even their own experts,” Glanville said. “The one guy says it’s (an) undetermined (fire); the other guy says it’s incendiary.
“I guess I figured it would have taken a little bit longer, but the DA did put on a very, very good case, they did.
“There was a lot of circumstantial evidence. We put on what we thought was a great case. I guess the jury felt that the people’s case was stronger.”
Joseph Meyers, 45, could face life in prison without the possibility of parole at sentencing. Judge Joseph W. Latham scheduled post verdict motions for June 19. A sentencing date has not been set, and Meyers remains jailed without bond.