Jury picked in trial of Oklahoma man charged in connection with fire deaths of his children
OKLAHOMA CITY — A 12-member jury was selected Monday for the trial of a Del City man who faces child neglect and drug-related charges in the deaths of his three young children in a recreational vehicle fire.The panel of six men and six women, as well as two male alternates, was chosen in Oklahoma County District Court in the case of Christopher Dunham, 26. Prosecution and defense attorneys are scheduled to give their opening statements in the case Tuesday morning.
Investigators testified at Dunham's preliminary hearing last year that items associated with making methamphetamine were found in the burned recreational vehicle, along with the bodies of 4-year-old Christopher Dunham Jr., 3-year-old Crystal Dunham and 22-month-old Kailey Dunham on Jan. 4, 2011.
Dunham has pleaded not guilty to three counts of child neglect as well as possession of drug paraphernalia and other drug-related charges. His defense attorney, Robert Sisson, has said he believes the fire that killed the children was a tragic accident, not a criminal act.
While questioning prospective jurors, Sisson warned that gruesome photographs of the children's charred bodies will be introduced as evidence and urged them not to be overcome by emotion.
"What's important is what happened," Sisson said. Dunham, dressed in a blue shirt and light khaki trousers, sat quietly at the defense table.
Prosecutors indicated that much of the evidence they will present will be circumstantial.
Dunham and his wife, Stephanie Dunham, were charged after a blood test at the time of the fire revealed traces of meth in Stephanie Dunham's system. A fire inspector reported that her husband, a tow truck driver who was at work when the fire started, said the couple used meth.Christopher Dunham's defense attorney, Robert Sisson, has described the fire that killed the couple's children as a tragic accident, not a criminal act.
Stephanie Dunham, who turns 27 Tuesday, pleaded no contest on Friday to child neglect and drug-related charges. District Judge Jerry Bass set sentencing for June 27.
Assistant District Attorney Pam Stillings has alleged that the Dunhams routinely locked their children in the inoperable motor home where the family lived in the backyard of a family member's house in Del City. Officials have testified that the fire started around an electrical space heater inside the vehicle that was attached to an electrical cord that stretched from the house.
In addition to the space heater, investigators have said they found a propane tank and torch inside the vehicle, along with smoking pipes, a weight scale, punctured aerosol cans, batteries and other items that could be used to manufacture meth.
Sisson questioned prospective jurors about whether they used space heaters in their homes or offices and several said they did. He also questioned whether they believe parents have an obligation to keep their children warm in the winter.
"People just don't like being cold, do they?" Sisson said.
Investigators say Stephanie Dunham repeatedly changed her story as they tried to piece together what happened when her children died. She initially claimed she was with the children inside the vehicle when it caught fire and that she tried to put out the flames. She eventually said she was in the adjacent structure and the children were unattended when the fire started, authorities said.
Stephanie Dunham suffered burns to her face, neck, hands and forearms when she opened the vehicle's door after it was engulfed in flames. Officials characterized the wounds as "flash burns" caused by intense heat from the fire.