Jury acquits Cuero man of arson, assault

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Nov. 7, 2013 at 5:07 a.m.
Updated Nov. 8, 2013 at 5:08 a.m.

A Victoria County jury acquitted a Cuero man accused of spraying a woman with lighter fluid and threatening to burn her.

After deliberating for a little more than two hours, the jury returned its not guilty verdict on aggravated assault, arson and endangering a child charges for Jeremy Louis Powell.

Powell, 28, was arrested after a woman he was living with in the 1700 block of Avondale Street called 911 the morning of March 14.

A fire ignited in the storage room behind her house after the two argued over a cellphone and $10. Investigators said Powell sprayed the woman and her home, where a 5-month-old baby was inside, with lighter fluid.

In her closing statements, Powell's attorney, Patti Hutson, said the police investigation was incomplete.

Although lighter fluid was found on the linoleum tiles in the kitchen, the carpet near the baby was not tested for the substance. The clothing the alleged victim, Kacey Gibson, was wearing during the incident had no trace of lighter fluid on it.

It was collected by investigators March 25, so forensic scientists think it could have evaporated in the days it was left out.

Hutson also noted that it would have been impossible for Gibson's next-door neighbor to see Powell go to a storage room from where she sat on her back porch. The neighbor would have to look through dense trees and a building, Hutson said.

Further, the storage room contained Powell's clothing, she said.

"Why would Jeremy Powell set his own clothing on fire? Does that make sense to anyone?" Hutson asked.

Hutson also thought Gibson sounded mad, not scared on the 911 tape.

"If you were afraid for the safety of yourself and your child, why would you stay in a place covered in lighter fluid?" Hutson asked.

She was grateful the jury considered this.

Assistant District Attorney Eddie Wilkinson said after the three-day trial concluded that it is uncommon for the fire and police departments to work together on a scene such as this.

Although juries like to have objective, scientific evidence, Wilkinson said, he did not agree the departments did a poor job investigating.

He advised the jury during closing arguments to place more weight on Gibson's testimony than that of Powell's. Powell first gave police his brother's name when asked to identify himself that day.

"Ask yourself, did she bold-face lie to you? Did she bold-face lie to police at the scene?" Wilkinson said.

If jurors believed Powell's story - that he left before the lighter fluid was sprayed in the house - Gibson would have had to set the fire in the storage room, spray the house and herself with lighter fluid, talk to her neighbor and make a dramatic 911 phone call in a span of about five minutes while Powell's friends watched, Wilkinson said.

"You would have to believe she put on an Oscar-winning performance," he said.

Police were unable to track down Powell's friends who were there when Gibson and Powell argued, but other witnesses said Gibson appeared wet and smelled of lighter fluid.

Gibson declined to comment after the trial.

Although Powell was acquitted of these charges, he still has a pending case in DeWitt County.

His mother, Della Powell, said her son played on his high school football team, is a veteran and wants to become a barber. He may have mental health issues because his brother died in a car wreck when he was young, and he saw death while serving in the Army, she said.

"He's not a bad kid," Della Powell said. "He just got lost along the way."



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