PICKENS COUNTY—A jury found Donald Kinsela not guilty of murder and arson after about an hour of deliberation on Tuesday.
Kinsela’s wife, Cheryl, died in a shed fire behind the couple’s residence in July of 2010. The trial, which lasted about a week, was concluded after it was determined the prosecution did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution and the defense closed their cases on Monday, and offered their closing arguments to a 12 person jury on Tuesday morning.
“This was nothing more than an accident,” Defense Attorney Druanne White said. “It was an accident that took Cheryl from her husband, an accident that took Cheryl from her daughter and an accident that took Cheryl from her parents.”
The fire, which occurred on July 3, entrapped Cheryl Kinsela under a stairway in the shed behind the house, according to law enforcement. Authorities say Kinsela died of carbon monoxide poisoning and was never burned in the blaze.
In a statement to police, Kinsela stated he was filling up his brush cutter with gas when it spilled on the ground. Kinsela then stated he heard a “woosh” sound and immediately saw flames. White said there is no way to tell what started the fire.
“Have you ever heard of such a crazy concocted scheme,” White said during her closing argument. “I’m going to buy a bunch of pine needles, I’m going to stack them in a building and I’m going to somehow lure my wife into a corner of a place that doesn’t have a door that I can shut behind her. It’s preposterous.”
13th Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins said in his closing argument that the whole trial can be summed up with one question.
“It comes down to a relatively simple question,” Wilkins said. “Did he set the fire or not? The evidence that you’ve heard from the state over days tells us that there is no doubt Don Kinsela set that fire and murdered his wife.”
Wilkins said Kinsela had possession of two items that he believes prove guilt.
“We know he had a lighter. They saw him light a cigarette before he entered the out building the day of the fire,” Wilkins said. “We also know he had gasoline.”
“If you look at the science, the science doesn’t lie. The truth is the truth, but it is the lie that always changes,” he continued. “They sold this story to law enforcement, but when it contradicts science, something is wrong.”
White said the evidence has not supported those claims.
“The law is, it is presumed to be an accident unless the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt that this was not an accident,” White said. “They haven’t done that.”
Kinsela embraced his family, crying as the verdict was read.