By Jackie Mora. CREATED Nov 4, 2013
Omaha, Ne- A jury finds 31-year-old Terrance Hale guilty of first-degree murder in connection with a house fire that killed an elderly man and injured his wife.
Hale was accused of breaking into the Vasholz home near 33rd & Ernst St. on February 7th and setting their home on fire. When firefighters arrived on scene they found Elizabeth “Betty” Vasholz with severe burns to her body outside her home. Crews say they put out a small fire inside the home and tried to rescue Raymond "Bob" Vasholz. He was taken to the hospital where he died. Hale was taken into custody at the scene. Betty pointed out Hale as the person who attacked her and her husband and set their home on fire. Hale said he saw the fire and tried to save them.
"I think it was wrong. I didn't do the crime, nothing," Hale said after the verdict came down.
Betty Vasholz gave powerful testimony for the jury on October 24th. The prosecution argued everything that Betty testified to be corroborated by evidence and the testimony of firefighters, police, and other witnesses. They say Hale tried to rob the couple and used control and manipulation citing specific examples. When the Vasholz didn't immediately give him money they allege Hale beat the couple, when Betty escaped hale blocked Bob's exit from the burning home, and prosecutors accuse Hale of trying to manipulate authorities into believing he was helping the couple.
The prosecution praised Betty for her strength saying if she wasn't as strong as she is she wouldn't have been able to testify against her attacker, and she may have not be alive today. They say Hale tried to manipulate every part of the crime.
Jim Masteller with the Douglas County Attorney's Office said, "The amount of manipulation exhibited by this defendant is extraordinary. For him to go in, commit these horrible crimes, exit, and knowing that his victim had actually proceeded him out of the house. For him to call 911, and play the hero, it's unbelievable."
Hale's defense attorney, Scott Sladek, argued that Hale's blood, nor DNA was identified in the house, and that Hale didn't have injuries consistent with assaulting two people and being in a fire. Sladek also said there's no doubt someone assaulted the Vasholz but, he explained, Betty made a mistaken identification because in two interviews after the crime she couldn't identify her attacker six different times.
"Time and information convinced her whoever was sitting in the defendant's seat is the person who did it,” Sladek argued to the jury. “It's naive to think that there couldn't have been another party in that house that attacked Mrs. Vasholz and got away."
Hale faces life in prison for the 1st Degree Murder Conviction.
The Vasholz family didn't want to comment immediately after court.