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IAAI 2013 Fire Investigator of the Year

2013 IAAI Fire Investigators of the Year

A little before 9 a.m. July 23, 2010, Dibble and Washington Fire Departments were summoned to a house fire at 15734 212th St. The trailer was situated just off State Highway 39 about 10 miles west of Purcell, Oklahoma. During the course of fire suppression, three victims were located within the structure. An investigation into the facts and circumstances of this fire ensued.

The investigation determined Shaun Bosse brutally stabbed to death his girlfriend Katrina Griffin and Griffin's eight year-old son Christian as the child attempted to assist his mother during the attack. He then placed Griffin’s unharmed six year-old daughter, Chastity, in a bedroom closet and placed a chair against the door to keep the child from escaping. Bosse then stole the family's valuables and set the residence on fire leaving the bodies of Katrina and Christian on the bedroom floor and Chastity locked in the closet.

ATF was subsequently called in to assist the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in the triple homicide investigation and Special Agent Certified Fire Investigator (SACFI) Billy Magalassi of the Tulsa, Oklahoma Field Office responded to assist in the investigation.

Despite the challenges posed as a result of the initial investigation failing to identify an area of origin and classifying the fire as undetermined, SACFI Billy Magalassi processed the scene and was able to locate a well-defined point of origin and was able to classify the fire cause as incendiary. SACFI Magalassi collected a number of items of evidence which were submitted for forensic testing and evaluation. He also contacted the ATF Fire Research Laboratory for assistance in hypothesis testing regarding fire development and tenability of the structure, specifically determining conditions in a closet where six year-old, Chastity, perished. Investigators were able to develop substantial information implicating Shaun Bosse and he was arrested and charged with three counts of murder and one count of arson.

Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) Jamie Lord was assigned to assist in the development and facilitation of testing and analysis at the ATF Fire Research Laboratory in Ammendale, Maryland. SACFI Magalassi and FPE Lord consulted and ultimately decided to conduct a number of tests utilizing a full-scale reconstruction of the fire scene.

One of the key factors in pursuing the death penalty was that prosecutors had to show that the murder was completed in a heinous, atrocious or cruel manner. One way that this could be proven was to show the jurors a timeline exhibiting the exposure of heat and cumulative impact of carbon monoxide on the six year-old victim locked in the bedroom closet.

SACFI Billy Magalassi posed two general questions to the FRL:

  1. Is a fire originating on a sofa against the rear wall of the living room consistent with the damage to the home, and is it possible that the fire burned for four hours before being noticed by a neighbor?
  2. What is the likely time to incapacitation for a young child located in the closet of the master bedroom during a fire originating on the sofa in the living room?

A full-sized mobile home was reconstructed at the FRL using the construction methods and dimensions that were documented during the investigation of the fire.

A total of five (5) full-scale tests were conducted, resulting in the following findings:

  • It is possible that a fire in the mobile home could burn for four hours, and still be burning before being noticed by a neighbor. The resulting damage to the mobile home from the test which lasted four hours is consistent with the damage noted at the scene of the fire.
  • During a fire originating on the sofa in the living room, the likely time to incapacitation for a young child located in the closet of the master bedroom is between 16 and 50 minutes.
  • To best demonstrate this data and the general tenability of the closet during the fire, various instrumentation including a video recording, was produced by the FRL exhibiting the information collected along with a firsthand view of the closet conditions during the fire. This evidence proved to be critical during the prosecution phase of the trial and was ultimately viewed as very compelling evidence by the jury.

Following procedural delays, including a delay caused by the escape of Bosse from state custody, the trial commenced on October 1, 2012. During the course of the trial, both SACFI Billy Magalassi and FPE Jamie Lord were called to testify, presenting evidence regarding the origin and cause investigation, the hypothesis development and testing, and the data developed during the forensic reconstruction tests. This testimony was presented over a course of several days, along with the testimony of two additional experts. Because of the testimony provided by SACFI Magalassi and FPE Lord regarding the scene examination, the collection of forensic evidence, and the full scale testing and resulting data, the prosecutors were able to prove the critical elements necessary to perfect this capital case. On November 2, 2012, a jury a jury found Bosse guilty on three counts of first degree murder and arson. The jury recommended a sentence of death for the three counts of murder and a sentence of 35 years for the arson.

On December 18, 2012, the District Court Judge handed down a sentence consistent with the jury recommendations.

According to the District Attorney's Office, this case would have had a far different outcome without the assistance of SACFI Billy Magalassi and FPE Jamie Lord.

It is for this determination and tenacity of this team that the IAAI, on behalf of fire investigators throughout the world, present Co-Investigators of the Year Award to:

Billy Magalassi
Resident Agent in Charge
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Tulsa, Oklahoma Field Office

James Lord
Fire Research Engineer
ATF Fire Research Laboratory
Ammendale, Maryland

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