The arson trial of a local man continued in Defiance County Common Pleas Court Tuesday.
Stephen Palladino, 41, 05584 Glenburg Road, is charged with aggravated arson, a second-degree felony.
The charge alleges that on Feb. 24, 2018, he started a fire at the residence of his ex-wife — Jennifer Palladino — at 17083 Ohio 15 in Highland Township.
The fire severely damaged the home, which Jennifer Palladino, her son and pet dog had left before the fire broke out, according to Defiance County Prosecutor Morris Murray. They had left due to concerns related to her ex-husband’s behavior.
The couple had divorced in 2017, and reportedly continued to have a volatile relationship, according to trial testimony.
Testimony began Monday with opening statements by Murray and the defendant’s attorney — E. Charles Bares of Defiance — and a number of witnesses called by the prosecution. The state’s case continued Tuesday with Palladino’s ex-wife testifying to their troubled relationship, and fire officials providing testimony.
A key state witness was Jason Hoffman of the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office who testified for most of the afternoon, including more than two hours in cross examination from Bates.
Hoffman said he ruled the fire had started with an open flame by a “human hand,” explaining that the fire began in the home’s master bedroom. Another fire official testified that Palladino’s pants tested positive for gasoline, although Hoffman said he couldn’t find evidence of a liquid igniter at the scene.
During cross examination, Bates sought to cast doubt on the thoroughness of Hoffman’s investigation and attempted to demonstrate that he pointed to Stephen Palladino as a suspect before he completed his work. Additionally, Bates questioned why the home was allowed to be torn down before his client had been indicted (in April 2018).
Hoffman said he never authorized the damaged home’s removal, indicating that it was a decision between Jennifer Palladino and her insurance company. He said he advised her to preserve things “in the interest of getting your claim paid.”
He also noted evidence produced from cell phone technology, which placed the defendant on the property six minutes before the fire was reported by a passer-by (at 6:09 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2018).
The trial is scheduled to continue today.