The trial of a Galloway woman accused of helping her boyfriend kill a man and burn his remains in a trailer in December 2006 began in Barbour County Circuit Court Monday. The man who discovered the body of his co-worker in the trailer, a state fire marshall and two state police officers were among the 17 witnesses expected to testify.
A jury consisting of seven women and five men were chosen to hear testimony in the case of Linda S. Meng, 45, of P.O. Box 13, Galloway. Meng, along with Orison Duane Runner, 42, of Route 3, Box 360, Philippi, were charged with one count of first-degree murder for the Dec. 11, 2006, death of Daniel R. Arbogast Jr. Runner previously entered into a plea agreement charging him with second-degree murder, a felony. As part of the agreement, Runner has agreed to testify for the state against Meng.
Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney E. Lynn Phillips and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Shawn Nines called four witnesses to testify Monday including Arbogast’s co-worker Chris Spriggs, Assistant State Fire Marshal Ronald “Mackey”Ayersman and West Virginia State Police Trooper M.P. Dennison and Sgt. J.B. Utt. Phillips told the court the state intends to call 17 witnesses to testify during the trial.
Attorneys Chaelyn Casteel and Leckta Poling are representing Meng.
During opening statements, Phillips told the jury Runner is going to testify that Meng wanted Arbogast killed and that she ordered him to do it either with a baseball bat or stab him. He said after Arbogast was dead, the couple intentionally set fire to the trailer to destroy the body.
During her opening remarks to the jury, Casteel said Runner is only testifying against Meng because he entered into a plea agreement in exchange for lesser charges. She said Meng was merely a witness to the crime. “Just because you are merely a witness to a crime, doesn’t make you guilty of a crime,” she said.
Spriggs was the first to testify. He told the court he spoke with Arbogast around 10 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2006, while at work. At about 3:30 a.m., Spriggs said he noticed a trailer was on fire and notified his boss, who told him to go check it out.
Spriggs said he approached the trailer but couldn’t get inside because of the flames and smoke. He said he could see a person sitting face down at the kitchen table, but couldn’t get the person’s attention. Spriggs said he notified the neighbors to call 911 and then went back to work after he knew help was on the way. Spriggs identified Meng as one of the people he notified.
Spriggs said he watched the fire from work and after the fire departments left, he noticed no ambulances were on the scene to treat the person inside the trailer.
“It seemed odd, because I know I saw somebody,” he said.
After getting off work, Spriggs said he went back to the trailer. Once there, he said he located the remains of a person, but didn’t know it was Arbogast. He said he then called 911 to notify them of the body.
Ayersman was the next to testify. He told the court the state fire marshal ruled the blaze was intentional and that the state medical examiner had determined Arbogast had been killed prior to his body being found inside the burned trailer. He said he took photographs of the scene and also found a melted baseball bat. He told the court the Philippi and Flemington volunteer fire departments had put out the fire using foam rather than water, which meant they didn’t know anybody was inside the structure.
After locating Arbogast’s body, Ayersman said he took photographs and then prepared the body to be sent to the state medical examiner’s office for identification.
Dennison told the court he was the investigating officer for the case. He said he interviewed Meng on three different occasions and also took written statements from her. He said he collected several pieces of evidence including the melted baseball bat and a kerosene heater from the trailer.
Utt provided the final testimony of the day. He told the court he read Meng her Miranda rights on Dec. 18, 2006, and then conducted an interview with her. He said during the interview, Meng told him she was afraid of Runner and that she knew he carried several weapons. He said Meng told him that she had reported to the police a few years prior that Runner had a bullet with her initials on it.
Phillips introduced several pieces of evidence including the melted baseball bat, photographs of the trailer and audio recordings of Meng’s statements.
The trial continued today at 9 a.m. at the Barbour County Courthouse. Phillips told the court five witnesses are scheduled to testify including Runner.